JOY, HOPE, SUSPICION—above all, astonishment—were the world’s prevailing emotions when it learned on August 29, 1898, that the young Czar of Russia, Nicholas II, had issued a call to the nations to join in a conference for the limitation of armaments. All the capitals were taken by surprise by what Le Temps called “this flash of lightning out of the North.” That the call should come from the mighty and ever expanding power whom the other nations feared and who was still regarded, despite its two hundred years of European veneer, as semi-barbaric, was cause for dazed wonderment liberally laced with distrust. The pressure of Russian expansion had been felt from Alaska to India, from Turkey to Poland. “The Czar with an olive branch,” it was said in Vienna, “that’s something new in history.” But his invitation touched a chord aching to respond.
Fear of the swelling armaments industry was widespread. Krupp, the colossus of Essen, was the largest single business in Europe. Skoda, Schneider-Creusot, Vickers-Maxim, the distended combines of many mergers, with harsh names that grated on the ear, had interests in every camp, sold their products to customers on every continent and to both sides of every quarrel, profited from every dispute. Each year one or another of them produced a new weapon more efficient in deadliness, which, when adopted by the armed forces of one power, immediately required a matching effort by its rival. Each year the cost mounted and the huge piles of weapons grew until it seemed they must burst in final, lethal explosion.
The Czar’s manifesto called for a stop to this process. Addressed to all the governments represented at St. Petersburg, it stated that although the longing for peace had been especially pronounced in the last twenty years, “the intellectual and physical strength of nations, labour and capital alike, have been unproductively consumed in building terrible engines of destruction.” Today these were the last word in science, tomorrow they were obsolete and had to be replaced. The system of “armaments à l’outrance is transforming the armed peace into a crushing burden that weighs on all nations and if prolonged will lead inevitably to the very cataclysm which it is desired to avert.” To arrest this exorbitant competition was now incumbent upon all.
The summons from such a source surpassed the wildest dreams of the friends of peace. It “will sound like beautiful music over the whole earth,” said a Viennese paper. Phrases like “a new epoch in civilization,” “dawn of a new era,” “omen for the new century,” appeared in the press of every country. In Belgium the summons was called a “veritable deliverance,” an act of “colossal importance” whose author would go down in history as “Nicholas the Pacific.” In New York it seemed a possible beginning “of the most momentous and beneficent movement in modern history—indeed in all history.” Rome lauded “one of the great documents that honors its century,” and Berlin greeted “the new Evangelist on the banks of the Neva” whose goal was noble and beautiful in theory however unrealizable in practice. Humanitarian but utopian was the consensus in London—except for Kipling who uttered dire warning. Britain and Russia were then close to conflict across India’s Northwest Frontier, and Kipling’s poem “The Bear that Walks like a Man,” composed in response to the Czar’s manifesto, told a grim allegory of a man maimed and blinded when the bear he hunted stood up as if in supplication and the hunter “touched with pity and wonder” withheld his fire only to have his face ripped away by the “steel-shod paw”:
When he stands up as pleading, in wavering, man-brute guise,
When he veils the hate and cunning of his little swinish eyes;
When he shows as seeking quarter, with paws like hands in prayer,
That is the time of peril—the time of the Truce of the Bear!…
Suspicion of Russia’s motive and cynical speculations were ample. The leading question was, had France, Russia’s ally, been consulted in advance? Since disarmament presupposed satisfaction with the status quo and since France was vociferously unreconciled to the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, the action of her ally posed, as The Times said, a “most surprising enigma.” From the French reaction it was clear she had not been consulted. “Et l’Alsace-Lorraine?” was l’Intransigeant’s one-line summary. Nevertheless many felt that coming at a time when “the intolerable pretensions and immeasurable ambitions” of Anglo-Saxon imperialism were agitating everyone s nerves and when the maintenance of peace was becoming more and more a “miracle of equilibrium,” the proposed conference was welcome.
Each group saw reflected in the Czar’s manifesto, as if in a magic mirror, the face of its particular opponent. To Germany it was obvious that if England did not consent to naval disarmament the Czar’s gesture would amount to “a sword stroke in water” and a few days later the Kaiser pronounced his decisive dictum, “Our future lies upon the ocean.” The British saw the major problem in Germany’s naval ambitions. Socialists everywhere were sure that whatever the Russian motive had been, considering the cruelties of Czarist oppression, it was not love of humanity. The German Socialist Wilhelm Liebknecht pronounced it a “fraud.” Many peace advocates considered it a response to the Spanish-American War, which seemed to them a prelude to world disaster. Many Europeans were convinced by the taking of the Philippines of the necessity of curbing American expansion. Americans themselves were not averse to the thought that the Czar had been prompted by their victory over Spain. Speaking for the anti-imperialists, Godkin sadly noted that the “splendid summons” came at a time when the United States was more deeply committed to “the military spirit and idea of forcible conquest” than ever before in her history.
The puzzle of motive remained. One explanation widely favored was that Nicholas had acted less for humanity than from a human desire to forestall the Kaiser, who was believed to be planning a similar proclamation, urbi et orbi, on his forthcoming visit to Jerusalem.
Colonel Henry’s suicide in the Dreyfus Affair soon absorbed public attention and ten days later the world gasped again when the Empress Elizabeth was assassinated by an Anarchist. Americans were preoccupied in welcoming home the regiments from Cuba, and the British with Kitchener’s march to Khartoum. From September on, the air darkened with the prospect of war between England and France; Fashoda, as the German Ambassador happily remarked, seemed to have obliterated the memory of Alsace-Lorraine. Peace was crowded out as a sensation.
Not, however, to the dedicated disciples of the peace movement in Europe and America, whom the Czar’s summons had electrified. Among the best known of these was Baroness Bertha von Suttner, author of the anti-war novel Die Waffen Nieder (“Put Down Your Arms”), which Tolstoy called the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of its cause. When the Baroness’ husband came home waving the newspaper, like Emma Goldman bringing the news of Homestead, she was transported with joy. Letters of congratulation soon poured in from fellow workers in the International Peace Bureau, the Interparliamentary Union, the Peace and Arbitration Association. “Whatever may come of it,” wrote Björnstjerne Björnson, “from now on the air is throbbing with thoughts of peace.” The fervor of the movement was personified by the Baroness, born Countess Kinsky in 1843 into an aristocratic Austrian family of dwindling fortunes. Too strong-minded and energetic to sink into genteel decay, she had taken a position at the age of thirty as tutor-companion to the daughters of the Von Suttner family and had kindled a glowing and reciprocated passion in the son and heir, seven years her junior. But she was dowerless and they parted in Germanic anguish. “He knelt before me and humbly kissed the hem of my gown: ‘Matchless, royally generous-hearted woman, your love has taught me to know a happiness which shall consecrate my life. Farewell!’ ” At this moment a newspaper advertisement by a “very wealthy, cultured, elderly gentleman living in Paris” who was looking for a mature, educated lady as secretary and manager of his household offered a way out, and the Countess found herself in the employ of the discoverer of dynamite, Alfred Nobel.
A strange, satiric idealist and pessimist, shy, melancholy, almost a recluse, though hardly elderly at forty-three, Nobel had made millions in the manufacture of explosives and was profoundly disturbed by its implications. He seemed less in need of a secretary than of someone to listen to him. “I wish,” he told his new employee, “I could produce a substance or a machine of such frightful efficacy for wholesale devastation that wars should thereby become altogether impossible.” Despite an immediate sympathy and “the intense intellectual enjoyment” of his society and a tentative hint of something more, the lady succumbed to heartache, left after a week, flew back to the arms of her adorer and eloped with him. After twelve years of marriage and a career as a writer, she discovered—with a sense of revelation—the International Peace and Arbitration Association of London. Its statement of purposes declared that now at the close of the Nineteenth Century the time had come for all men to consult and agree on a means for the peaceful settlement of disputes and the abolition of war. Instantly and passionately a convert, Bertha von Suttner threw herself into the effort to organize branches of the society in Vienna and Berlin. In 1891 her efforts, publicized by the Neue Freie Presse, succeeded in Vienna and the manifesto issued on the occasion expressed the ideals of peace advocates everywhere. They believed a new war to be morally impossible because “men have lost some of their former savagery and disregard for life,” and physically impossible because new weapons were too destructive. They believed the masses though still dumb yearned for peace. While all governments insisted war must be avoided, all were massing armaments to prepare for it and this “monstrous contradiction” must end.
The Interparliamentary Union, formed in Paris in 1888 to bring together members of the various national parliaments in the cause of peace, now held Congresses each year in different capitals. In the United States the Universal Peace Union named as its chief goals gradual disarmament and a Permanent Court of Arbitration. Stemming from the Geneva settlement of the Alabama dispute between the United States and Britain, the arbitration movement was especially strong in these two countries. Its goal was to substitute judicial settlement for war. Its advocates believed that if a workable process could be arranged, at first by treaty between individual nations, later by general treaty, while at the same time war was shown to be so destructive as to be “impossible,” man would ultimately rather arbitrate than fight. It was a view based on the premise that man was reasonable and that wars came from quarrels susceptible of settlement by other means. The time was one of belief in moral as well as material progress and did not include the view of war as a clash of forces like the winds that blow.
Nobel was an ardent advocate of arbitration, though not of disarmament, which he thought a foolish demand for the present. He urged establishment of a tribunal and agreement among nations for a one-year period of compulsory truce in any dispute. He turned up in person, though incognito, at a Peace Congress in Berne in 1892 and told Bertha von Suttner that if she could “inform me, convince me, I will do something great for the cause.” The spark of friendship between them had been kept alive in correspondence and an occasional visit over the years and he now wrote her that a new era of violence seemed to be working itself up; “one hears in the distance its hollow rumble already.” Two months later he wrote again, “I should like to dispose of my fortune to found a prize to be awarded every five years,” to the person who had contributed most effectively to the peace of Europe. He thought it should terminate after six awards, “for if in thirty years society cannot be reformed we shall inevitably lapse into barbarism.” Nobel brooded over the plan, embodied it in a will drawn in 1895 which allowed man a little longer deadline, and died in the following year.
The cause of arbitration almost scored a triumph in January, 1897, when Britain and the United States signed a treaty, negotiated by Secretary Olney and the British Ambassador, Sir Julian Pauncefote, for the settlement of all except territorial disputes, the memory of Venezuela being still warm. Resenting invasion of its control of foreign affairs, the Senate refused to ratify it by three votes. The defeat seemed a calamity, in Olney’s words, “not merely of national but of world wide proportions.” It shook the general belief in man’s moral progress.
In this belief, fostered in the last ten or fifteen years by signs on every hand of society’s improvement, the peace movement had its origins. The marvelous strides of science had brought the human race to a stage of material welfare ready to prove the faith of the Nineteenth Century that the better off man became the less aggressive he would be. Society now had running water and lighted streets, sanitation, preserved and refrigerated food, sewing machines, washing machines, typewriters, lawn-mowers, the phonograph, telegraph and telephone and lately, beginning in the nineties, the extraordinary gift of individual powered mobility in the horseless carriage. It seemed impossible that so much physical benefit should not have worked a spiritual change, that the new century should not begin a new era in human behavior; that man, in short, had not become too civilized for war. Science made all phenomena seem subject to certitudes and laws, and if man’s physical world could be understood and controlled, why not his social relations also? “Social conditions are destined to become different,” Baroness von Suttner wrote with conviction. The younger generation agreed. “We were sincerely persuaded in 1898 that the era of wars was over,” wrote Julien Benda, a French intellectual who was thirty-one in that year. “For fifteen years from 1890 to 1905 men of my generation really believed in world peace.”
Fear as well as faith impelled the peace movement, fear of the unchained energy of the machine age. The great surge in mechanical energy, the amazing new techniques and tools and new inventions following one upon the other, the fantastic capabilities of electricity, created an uneasy sense that man had gathered into his hands more power than he could control; power that could escape, run wild and destroy him unless put under limits. In 1820 the world disposed of 778 metric tons of mechanical energy (expressed in the coal equivalent of mineral fuels and water power) compared to 15,000,000 metric tons in 1898. Productivity per man had increased in proportion. Countries were swelling in size and strength. The death rate declined markedly, owing to developments in sanitation and medicine, with the result that since 1870 the population of Europe had increased by 100,000,000, as much as its whole population in 1650. In the same period Great Britain had acquired 4,700,000 square miles of territory, France 3,600,000, Germany 1,000,000 and Belgium 900,000, or seventy-seven times her own size. In the United States during the same period the population had more than doubled and the per capita output of manufactures multiplied four times. The profits of Carnegie Steel rose from $6,000,000 in 1896 to $40,000,000 in 1900. A new prime mover, the internal combustion engine, succeeded the steam engine and brought into existence the oil industry. The steam turbine and diesel engine added new motor power; hydro-electric power throbbed in thousands of dynamos. Steamships increased in tonnage, speed and cargo space. Steel, the key product of the age, mushroomed in products and uses through invention of the Bessemer converter. The relative invention rate reached the highest point in history in the nineties. Aluminum and other light metal alloys were developed. The chemical industry created new materials and processes. The method of mass production, using interchangeable parts, known as the “American system,” came into use in all industrial countries. Dynamite as a blasting agent made possible massive excavations for quarries and mine shafts and mammoth constructions like the Simplon Railway Tunnel and the Panama Canal. The manufacture of dynamite increased from 11 tons in 1867, the year Nobel first put it on the market, to 66,500 tons in 1897. Big business which was necessary to finance heavy industry formed cartels and trusts with vast financial resources.
Nowhere were the added strengths greater than in weapons and other forces of war. The increase in population made manpower available for huge standing armies, and following the German example, conscription was adopted by all the Continental powers after 1871. To arm and equip mass armies required the efforts of mass industry and the munitions companies gathered under their control raw materials, mines, foundries and transportation. Markets and profits were almost limitless and they responded with fierce vigor to the incentive. In the ten years from the mid-eighties to mid-nineties land warfare was revolutionized by the introduction of the magazine-loading small-bore rifle, the improved Maxim machine gun, and smokeless powder. Together these multiplied the range, rapidity and accuracy of firepower five times or more and changed the nature of battle. Infantry who had fired three rounds a minute at Waterloo could now fire sixteen rounds a minute. The small bore added distance to the trajectory and accuracy to the aim. Development of automatic recoil for field guns equally increased the rate of artillery fire. Above all, smokeless powder, patented by Nobel between 1887 and 1891, opened up and extended the battlefield. It cleared the field of vision, permitted concealment of guns, speeded reloading and increased the range and accuracy of artillery from one thousand to five or six thousand yards. Battle would now spread over vast distances and an army be brought under fire before it could see the enemy. The conditions were laid, if barely yet suspected, for the supremacy of artillery over the rifle. The torpedo and the mine equally extended the range of naval warfare and experiments gave awful promise of the submarine.
Some gloried in the energy coursing through the world’s veins; others feared it, and felt with Ibsen, “We are sailing with a corpse in the cargo.” The desire for nations to come together in some sort of mutual effort to apply a brake grew increasingly vocal and was loud enough for Lord Salisbury as Prime Minister to give heed to it in 1897. In his Guildhall speech of that year he saw the piling up of arms and the yearly improvement in “instruments of death” culminating, unless prevented, in a “terrible effort of mutual destruction which will be fatal for Christian civilization.” Without mentioning disarmament, he said the only hope of preventing the disaster lay in bringing the powers together to act on their differences in a friendly spirit and eventually to “be welded in some international constitution.” Never an optimist, Lord Salisbury did not go so far as to suggest that this would abolish war, but limited his hopes to “a long spell of prosperous trade and continued peace.”
The Czar was neither more pacific nor more idealistic than Lord Salisbury; he was thirty in 1898, a narrow, rather dull-witted young man of no vision and only one idea: to govern with no diminution of the autocratic power bequeathed by his ancestors. His petty view of things, said Pobiedonostsev, Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod, was the result “of the influence of the many chambermaids who surround his mother.” The effort to keep a constitution at bay was the sum of his exertions and he had little political energy or interest left for anything else. Unlike the mettlesome Kaiser, who itched to play a hand every time he read a dispatch, the Czar found world affairs rather mentally taxing. “Indeed,” as he wrote his mother during the excitement over Fashoda and the Kaiser’s visit to Jerusalem, “many strange things happen in the world. One reads about them and shrugs one’s shoulders.”
The proposal for a peace conference was not his own idea. It originated for certain practical reasons with the ministers of three critical departments—War, Finance, and Foreign Affairs—and its genesis lay in the simple condition that Russia was behind in the arms race and could not afford to catch up. General Alexei Kuropatkin, the Minister of War, had learned that Austria, Russia’s chief rival, was planning to adopt the improved rapid-fire field gun firing six rounds a minute, already possessed by Germany and France. The Russians, whose field gun fired one round a minute, could not hope to finance the rearming of their entire artillery, because they were already, at great financial strain, engaged in rearming their infantry. If the Austrians could be persuaded to agree to a ten-year moratorium on new guns, Kuropatkin thought, both countries would be spared the expense—and why not? For whether both rearmed or both agreed not to rearm, “the final result, if the two groups went to war, would be the same.”
Kuropatkin took his simple but grand idea to the Czar, who could see no flaw, and then to the Foreign Minister, Count Muraviev, who took the precaution of consulting the Finance Minister, Count Witte. Capable, energetic and unusually endowed for a Czarist minister with common sense and a hard head, Witte was trying, against the forces of lethargy, autocracy and erosion, to fit Russia for the modern industrial world. He grudged every ruble spent on arms, detested the interference of war and believed the arms race might become “more irksome than war itself.” However, as he pointed out, Kuropatkin’s Chinese philosophy of agreeing with the enemy in advance depended on trusting the Austrians, which was impossible, and would be harmful besides, as it would “merely reveal our financial weakness to the whole world.” Instead he proposed an international, rather than a bilateral, moratorium on new weapons. He expatiated to Muraviev on the incalculable harm that growing militarism was inflicting on the world and the boon which could be conferred upon humanity by limiting armaments. These “rather trite ideas,” as he wrote later, were new to Muraviev and apparently produced on him a profound impression. Within a few days he called a council of ministers to consider an appeal to the powers for a conference. The Czar’s approval was obtained. If only the awful pace of the world could be slowed down, he and his advisers felt, and something done “to keep people from inventing things,” Russia would benefit.
Just at this moment an impressive six-volume work called The Future of War was published in Russia. Its author, Ivan Bloch, and his ideas, were known to Witte, whether or not they influenced him. Bloch was a self-educated man and converted Jew who, not satisfied with making a fortune in railroad contracting, had gone abroad to seek higher education in economics and political science in foreign universities. In Warsaw, on his return from Western Europe, he had become a power in banking and the railroad business, which brought him into contact with Witte, and had published a number of scholarly volumes on industrial and monetary problems before embarking on the major work that was to give him a niche in immortality. His studies and his experience in business filled him with growing apprehension that the limited war of the past was no longer possible. Because conscription could call on a pool of the entire nation, he saw wars of the future absorbing the total energies and resources of the combatant states, who, unable to achieve decisive victory on the battlefield, would fight to exhaustion until they had brought each other down in total ruin. The interdependence of nations in finance, foreign trade, raw materials and all business relations, Bloch believed, meant that the victor could not be separated from the vanquished. The destructive power of modern weapons would mean a vast increase in slaughter. The one-day battle had become a thing of the past. Whole armies would become entrenched for weeks and months at a time; battles would become sieges; noncombatant populations would be drawn in. No modern state could achieve victory without the destruction of its resources and the breakup of society. War had become “impossible except at the price of suicide.”
Bloch’s conclusions led him to the peace movement (or the process may have been the other way around). To convince society of the danger, he used a persuasion more frightening than war—social revolution. If present conditions continued, he argued, nations faced either exhaustion in the arms race or the catastrophe of war, and in either case “convulsion in the social order.” The waste of national resources on a sterile product was accountable for the growing anti-militarism of the masses. Therefore in preparing for war the governments were really “preparing the triumph of the social revolution.” If they could be convinced of this, Bloch believed, they would be more willing to find other means than war of settling their disputes. His six volumes were a massive piling-up of facts on firepower, blockade, freight and cargo capacities, casualty rates and every military and economic factor to prove the vulnerability of the modern state. Like Marx, Bloch drew from a given set of circumstances the dogma of an inevitable historical conclusion. He believed that armament expenditure necessarily “exhausted” a nation, as Marx believed that capitalism progressively impoverished the proletariat. Neither Bloch nor any of the peace propagandists considered the degree to which the armament and attendant industries created employment.
Fear of social revolution being an effective argument in Russia, Bloch gained an audience with the Czar and his argument found an echo in the manifesto which was written by Muraviev. The Foreign Minister evidently felt its persuasiveness. In conveying it to the British Ambassador he particularly asked him to emphasize in his report that Russia’s initiative for peace would show “the discontented and disturbing classes” that powerful governments sympathized with their desire to see national wealth used productively rather than in “ruinous competition.” The Ambassador replied suavely that “it would be difficult to remain insensible to the noble sentiments which had inspired this remarkable document.”
“It is the greatest nonsense and rubbish I ever heard of,” wrote the Prince of Wales less suavely to Lady Warwick. When indignant he took on something of the tone of his mother. “The thing is simply impossible. France could never consent to it—nor We.” He decided it was “some new dodge of that sly dog” and “subtle intriguer” Muraviev, who had “put it into the Czar’s head.” On the whole this expressed the view of the governments. Regarding the proposal with cold distaste, they accepted the invitation—because none wished to be the one to reject it—while expecting nothing to come of it but trouble. As the Austrian Foreign Minister said, it would make it more difficult in future for governments to present new military demands to their parliaments.
Dampened but determined, Muraviev sent out a second circular letter in January, 1899, with an agenda of eight topics. The first proposed an agreement not to increase armed forces or military budgets for a fixed period. The last proposed agreement on the principle of arbitration and the working out of procedures. Topics 2, 3 and 4 dealt with prohibition or restriction of new types of weapons and of predicted means of warfare, such as submarines, asphyxiating gases and the “launching of projectiles from balloons” for which no specific verb existed. Topics 5, 6 and 7 concerned the laws and customs of land warfare and the extension of the Geneva rules of 1864 to naval warfare. Topics 2–7 were resented by the peace propagandists, who wished to abolish war, not alleviate it. They suspected that these topics had been included to stir the interest and require the participation of the governments and their military representatives, as was indeed the case.
Chanceries buzzed, diplomatic pouches bulged with dispatches, ambassadors called on foreign ministers and endeavored in the prescribed conversational minuet to discover the intentions of the government to which they were accredited. Lord Salisbury appeared in a German report as “very skeptical” and the Emperor Franz Joseph as taking an “unfavorable” view and considering any limit on military development “unacceptable.” In Rome the Marquis Visconti-Venosta declined to be a delegate to a conference “which was not likely to be attended by any very useful results.” Washington would send delegates but would do nothing toward limitation of arms. Belgium awaited the conference with “regret and anxiety,” fearing that any alteration in the laws of war would confirm the powers of an invading army or restrict the rights of legitimate defence against invasion. Berlin’s reaction seemed expressed in the addition of three army corps to her forces. From capital to capital, reaction varied little: arms limitation was “impractical”; restriction on new developments unwanted; arbitration on matters involving “national honor or vital interest” unacceptable, although perhaps feasible on minor matters. Conduct of war, however, offered room for discussion.
Fearing that all the excited talk of the peace advocates about disarmament had caused misunderstanding of his proposal, Muraviev visited the capitals to explain in personal interviews that what Russia really wanted was simply a ceiling on the status quo. It seemed so sensible. The powers might even agree, he suggested, on a fixed percentage of their population to be called to arms, which would enable them greatly to reduce their armies while “retaining the same chances as before.” “Idiot,” noted the Kaiser on the margin of this memorandum.
No one was more agitated by the Czar’s proposal than Wilhelm II, in whose mind the military function was equivalent to the State as well as to himself, who personified the State. The white cloak and shining helmet he liked to pose in, the sparkle and color of uniforms, the gallop of cavalry, the panoply of regimental colors, the complicated rattle of ordnance, the whole paraphernalia of officer corps and Army, and lately, the brilliant vision of power upon the sea, were all facets of the same jewel—armed force. Everything else, Reichstag, political parties, budgets, votes, were more or less extraneous nuisances—except diplomacy, which was only properly understood by monarchs and invariably bungled at lower levels.
The Kaiser had come to the throne at twenty-nine, in 1888, after his father’s sad small reign of ninety days when liberal rule had flickered for a moment in Germany and gone out. His first proclamation on his accession was addressed, not like his father’s, “To My People,” but, “To My Army.” It announced, “We belong to each other, I and the Army; we were born for each other.” The relationship he had in mind was explained in advice to a company of young recruits: “If your Emperor commands you to do so you must fire on your father and mother.” His sense of personal responsibility for the affairs of Germany and of Europe was expressed in the frequent “I’s” and “My’s” that bedizened his talk. “There is only one master in the Reich and that is I; I shall tolerate no other.” Or, some years later, “There is no balance of power in Europe but me—me and my twenty-five army corps.” He was willing, however, to make room for the Almighty who figured as the “ancient Ally of my House.” Remarks like these caused heads to shake and people to reflect like the Prince of Wales “how different everything would have been” if the Kaiser’s father had lived. Still, the Prince explained, his nephew’s speeches did not sound so absurd in German as when translated into English.
The Kaiserin remarked that she had not seen her husband so annoyed for a long time as over the sudden intrusion—into a domain he considered his own—of “Nicky,” the Czar, whom he was accustomed to patronize and advise in voluble letters in English signed “Willy.” Whether or not he had planned some similar statement from Jerusalem, the real bite was, as his friend Count Eulenburg said, that he “simply can’t stand someone else coming to the front of the stage.”
Assuming at a glance that the proposal was one for “general disarmament,” and immediately seeing the results in personal terms, the Kaiser dashed off a telegram to Nicky. Imagine, he reproached, “a Monarch holding personal command of his Army, dissolving his regiments sacred with a hundred years of history … and handing over his towns to Anarchists and Democracy.” Nevertheless he felt sure the Czar would be praised for his humanitarian proposal, “the most interesting and surprising of this century! Honor will henceforth be lavished upon you by the whole world; even should the practical part fail through difficulties of detail.” He littered the margins of ensuing correspondence with Aha!’s and !!’s and observations varying from the astute to the vulgar, the earliest being the not unperceptive thought, “He has put a brilliant weapon into the hands of our Democrats and Opposition.” At one point he compared the proposal to the Spartans’ message demanding that the Athenians agree not to rebuild their walls; at another he suddenly scribbled the rather apt query, “What will Krupp pay his workers with?”
Germany did not have the motive and the cue for peace that Russia had: straitened circumstances. Under-developed industry was not a German problem. When Muraviev in Berlin told Count Eulenburg that the guiding idea behind the Russian proposal was that the yearly increases would finally bring the nations to the point of non possumus, he could not have chosen a worse argument. Non possumus was not in the German vocabulary. Germany was bursting with vigor and bulging with material success. After the unification of 1871, won by the sword in the previous decade of wars, prosperity had come with a rush, as it had in the United States after the Civil War. Energies were let loose on the development of physical resources. Germany in the nineties was enjoying the first half of a twenty-five-year period in which her national income doubled, population increased by 50 per cent, railroad-track mileage by 50 per cent, cities sprang up, colonies were acquired, giant industries took shape, wealth accumulated from their enterprises and the rise in employment kept pace. Albert Ballin’s steamship empire multiplied its tonnage sevenfold and its capital tenfold in this period. Emil Rathenau developed the electrical industry which quadrupled the number of its workers in ten years. I. G. Farben created aniline dyes; Fritz Thyssen governed a kingdom of coal, iron and steel in the Ruhr. As a result of a new smelting process making possible the utilization of the phosphoric iron ore of Lorraine, Germany’s production of coal and steel by 1898 had increased four times since 1871 and now surpassed Britain’s. Germany’s national income in that period had doubled, although it was still behind Britain’s, and measured per capita, was but two-thirds of Britain’s. German banking houses opened branches around the world, German salesmen sold German goods from Mexico to Baghdad.
German universities and technical schools were the most admired, German methods the most thorough, German philosophers dominant. The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute was the leading laboratory for chemical research in the world. German science boasted Koch, Ehrlich and Roentgen, whose discovery of the X ray in 1895 was, however, as much a product of his time as of his country, for in 1897–99 in England J. J. Thomson had discovered the electron, and in France the Curies the release of energy by radioactivity. German professors expounded German ideals and German culture, among them Kuno Francke at Harvard, who pictured Germany pulsing with “ardent life and intense activity in every field of national aspirations.” He could barely contain his worship of the noble spectacle:
“Healthfulness, power, orderliness meet the eye on every square mile of German soil.” No visitor could fail to be impressed by “these flourishing, well-kept farms and estates, these thriving villages, these carefully replenished forests,… these bursting cities teeming with a well-fed and well-behaved population,… with proud city halls and stately courthouses, with theatres and museums rising everywhere, admirable means of communication, model arrangements for healthy recreation and amusement, earnest universities and technical schools.” The well-behaved population was characterized by its “orderly management of political meetings, its sober determination and effective organization of the laboring classes in their fight for social betterment” and its “respectful and attentive attitude toward all forms of art.” Over all reigned “the magnificent Army with its manly discipline and high standards of professional conduct,” and together all these components gave proof of “the wonderfully organized collective will toward the higher forms of national existence.” The mood was clearly not one amenable to proposals of self-limitation.
The sword, as Germany’s historians showed in their explanations of rise, was responsible for Germany’s greatness. In his History of Germany in the Nineteenth Century, published in five volumes and several thousand pages over a period of fifteen years in the eighties and nineties, Treitschke preached the supremacy of the State whose instrument of policy is war and whose right to make war for honor or national interest cannot be infringed upon. The German Army was the visible embodiment of Treitschke’s gospel. Its authority and prestige grew with every year, its officers were creatures of ineffable arrogance, above the law, who inspired an almost superstitious worship in the public. Any person accused of insult to an officer could be tried for the crime of indirect lèse majesté.German ladies stepped off the sidewalk to let an officer pass.
Radio Times Hulton Picture Library
Lord Salisbury (Photo Credit 5.1)
By Courtesy of the Trustees of the Tate Gallery, London
Lord Ribblesdale (portrait by Sargent, 1902) (Photo Credit 5.2)
By permission of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wolfe Fund, 1927
The Wyndham sisters: Lady Elcho, Mrs. Tennant, and Mrs. Adeane
(portrait by Sargent, 1899) (Photo Credit 5.3)
By Country Life from H. A. Tipping, English Homes
Chatsworth (Photo Credit 5.4)
Prince Peter Kropotkin (Photo Credit 5.5)
Editorial office of La Révolte (Photo Credit 5.6)
Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York
“Slept in That Cellar Four Years” (photograph by Jacob A. Riis, about 1890) (Photo Credit 5.7)
“Lockout” (drawing by Théophile Steinlen; signed “Petit Pierre”) (Photo Credit 5.8)
Thomas B. Reed (Photo Credit 5.9)
Captain (later Admiral) Alfred Thayer Mahan (Photo Credit 5.10)
Charles William Eliot (Photo Credit 5.11)
Samuel Gompers (Photo Credit 5.12)
The mob during Zola’s trial (drawing by Théophile Steinlen) (Photo Credit 5.13)
The “Syndicate” (drawing by Forain) (Photo Credit 5.14)
“Allegory” (drawing by Forain) (Photo Credit 5.15)
Coucou, le voilà!
La Vérité sort de son puits.
“Truth Rising from Its Well” (drawing by Caran d’Ache) (Photo Credit 5.16)
In 1891 the Alldeutsche Verband (Pan-German League) was founded, whose program was the union of all members of the German race, wherever they resided, in a Pan-German state. Its core was to be a Greater Germany incorporating Belgium, Luxemburg, Switzerland, Austria-Hungary, Poland, Rumania and Serbia which, after this first stage was accomplished, would extend its rule over the world. The League distributed posters for display in shop windows reading, “Dem Deutschen gehört die Welt” (“The world belongs to Germans”). In a simple statement of purpose Ernst Hasse, founder of the League, declared, “We want territory even if it belongs to foreigners, so that we may shape the future according to our needs.” It was a task his countrymen felt equal to.
Any outbreak of fighting among the nations, as in the Sino-Japanese War of 1895 or the Spanish-American War, stirred in the Germans a powerful desire to mix in. Admiral von Diederichs, in command of the German Pacific Squadron at Manila Bay, was edging for a quick grab at the Philippines, and only Admiral Dewey’s red-faced roar, “If your Admiral wants a fight he can have it now!”—silently if conspicuously supported by movements of the British squadron—made him draw back. “To the German mind,” commented Secretary Hay, “there is something monstrous in the thought that a war should take place anywhere and they not profit by it.” Dewey, understandably, thought they had “bad manners.” “They are too pushing and ambitious,” he said, “they’ll overreach themselves someday.”
At the top of the German state was a government essentially capricious. Ministers were independent of Parliament and held office at the will of a sovereign who referred to the members of the Reichstag as “sheepsheads.” Since government office was confined to members of the aristocracy and the premise of a political career was unqualified acceptance of Conservative party principles, the doors were closed to new talent. “Not even the tamest Liberal,” regretted the editor of the Berliner Tageblatt, “had any chance of reaching a post of the slightest distinction.” After the Kaiser’s dismissal of Bismarck in 1890, no one of active creative intelligence held an important post. The Chancellor, chosen because he was such a relief from Bismarck, was Prince Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, a gentle-mannered, fatherly Bavarian whose motto, it was said, was: “Always wear a good black coat and hold your tongue.” The Foreign Minister was Count Bernhard von Bülow, an elegant gentleman of extreme suavity and self-importance and a manner so well oiled that in conversation and correspondence he seemed always to be rubbing his hands like a rug merchant. He used to scribble notes on his shirt cuffs for fear of forgetting the least of His Majesty’s wishes. In an effort to catch the effortless parliamentary manner of Balfour he practiced holding onto his coat lapels before the bathroom mirror, coached by an attaché from the Foreign Office. “Watch,” murmured a knowing observer in the Reichstag when Bülow rose to speak, “here comes the business with the lapels.”
Behind Bülow in control of foreign policy was the invisible Holstein who in the manner of Byzantine courts exercised power without nominal office. He regarded all diplomacy as conspiracy, all overtures of foreign governments as containing a concealed trick, and conducted foreign relations on the premise of everyone’s animosity for Germany. The interests of a Great Power, he explained to Bülow, were not necessarily identical with the maintenance of peace, “but rather with the subjugation of its enemies and rivals.” Therefore “we must entertain the suspicion” that the Russian objective was “rather a means to power than to peace.” Bülow agreed. His instructions to envoys abroad breathed of pitfalls and plots and treated Muraviev’s agenda as if it were a basket of snakes. It would be desirable, he wrote to his Ambassador in London, “if this Peace and disarmament idea … were wrecked on England’s objections without our having to appear in the foreground,” and he trusted the Ambassador to guide the exchange of views with Mr. Balfour toward that end.
Mr. Balfour, the acting Foreign Secretary for Lord Salisbury, was not an entirely suitable victim for Bülow’s manipulations. However skeptical of results, the British Government, unlike the German, did not feel threatened by an international conference and did not intend to bear the brunt of wrecking it. Moreover, public enthusiasm could not be flouted in England. In the four months following the Czar’s manifesto, over 750 resolutions from public groups reached the Foreign Office welcoming the idea of an international conference and expressing the “earnest hope,” in the words of one of them, that Her Majesty’s Government would exert their influence to ensure its success “so that something practical may result.” The resolutions came not only from established peace societies and religious congregations but from town and shire meetings, rural district committees, and county councils, were signed by the Mayor, stamped with the county seal, forwarded by the Lord Lieutenant. Some without benefit of official bodies came simply from the “People of Bedford,” “Rotherhead Residents” or “Public Meeting at Bath.” Many came from local committees of the Liberal party, although Conservative groups were conspicuously absent, as were Church of England congregations. All the Nonconformist sects were represented: Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, Christian Endeavor, Welsh Nonconformists, Irish Evangelicals. The Society of Friends collected petitions with a total of 16,000 signatures. Bible associations, adult schools, women’s schools, the National British Women’s Temperance Association, the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, the West of Scotland Peace and Arbitration Association, the Humanitarian League, the Oxford Women’s Liberal Association, the General Board of Protestant Dissenters, the Mayor of Leicester, the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, the Town Clerk of Poole, were among the signatories.
Bound volumes of the resolutions signed with a shaky “S.” indicated that Lord Salisbury was keeping track of public opinion. A deputation representing the International Crusade of Peace headed by the Earl of Aberdeen and the Bishop of London visited Mr. Balfour, who received them with a graceful speech taking “a sanguine view of the diminution, I will not say the extinction, but the diminution of war in the future” and looking forward to the coming conference as a “great landmark in the progress of mankind,” whether or not, he added, it produced any practical results. This was not altogether what Bülow had hoped for.
The epitome of the peace movement was the most ebullient and prolific journalist of an age rich in his kind, William T. Stead, founder and editor of the Review of Reviews. Stead was a human torrent of enthusiasm for good causes. His energy was limitless, his optimism unending, his egotism gigantic. As the self-estimated pope of journalism his registered telegraph address was “Vatican, London.” During the eighties he had edited the Liberal daily, the Pall Mall Gazette, in a series of explosions that made it required reading in public life. “You are too strenuous, too uniformly strenuous,” pronounced the Prince of Wales who read it regularly. Stead waded recklessly into crusades ranging from protection of prostitutes to a “Sane Imperialism.” They included campaigns against Bulgarian atrocities, Siberian convict life, the desertion of General Gordon at Khartoum, Congo slavery, the labour victims of “Bloody Sunday” in Trafalgar Square, and for baby adoption, village libraries, Esperanto, international scholars’ correspondence, and housing for the poor. His most notorious effort, published under the title “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon,” described his personal purchase of a thirteen-year-old girl for £5 as a means of dramatizing the procurement of child virgins for prostitution. The articles made a world sensation, and besides causing Stead’s trial and imprisonment on a charge of abduction, succeeded in forcing an amendment raising the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen.
Stead visited Russia in 1889, where he interviewed Alexander III and became a champion of Anglo-Russian alliance and thus of everything Russian. He campaigned for a big navy at the instance of his friend Admiral Fisher; collaborated with General Booth on a book, In Darkest England; joined Cecil Rhodes in the cause of Imperial Federation and union of the English-speaking world. Deciding to reform Chicago after a visit there in 1893, he exposed its evils and laid out a scheme of regeneration in a book called If Christ Came to Chicago and organized a Civic Federation which included labour leaders and Mrs. Potter Palmer to put the scheme into action. During the visit he talked with Governor Altgeld and invited Fielden, one of the pardoned Anarchists, to share a speaker’s platform.
The connecting principle running through his causes was belief in man’s duty to amend society and extend the British sway. He liked to use the phrase “God’s Englishman” and conceived of this figure as a righter of wrongs; anything that added to his power was a benevolent influence. He turned up so often on opposite sides of the same question, as in the case of arms limitation and a big navy, that he was accused of insincerity, although in fact, as of any particular moment, his sincerity was genuine, if nimble.
In 1890 he founded his own journal, the monthly Review of Reviews, with the expressed object of making it read throughout the English-speaking world “as men used to read their Bibles … to discover the will of God and their duty to their fellow man.” Finding a monthly less satisfactory as a political organ, he yearned for a millionaire to back him in a daily of his own and once in Paris told a friend, “I went in to Notre Dame to have a talk with God about it.”
Detested by some, he was a friend of the great, including, besides Rhodes and Fisher, James Bryce, Cardinal Manning, Lord Esher, Lord Milner, Mrs. Annie Besant and Lady Warwick, who arranged a těte-à-těte lunch for him with the Prince of Wales. He interviewed sovereigns, cabinet ministers, archbishops and helped all “oppressed races, ill-treated animals, underpaid typists, misunderstood women, persecuted parsons, vilified public men, would-be suicides, hot-gospellers of every sort and childless parents.” His talk was a river and as a lecturer he “leaped over the face of the globe as though on a pogo-stick.” Besides writing, editing, traveling, interviewing and lecturing, he wrote or dictated some 80,000 letters in his twenty-two years on the Review of Reviews, an average of ten a day. He espoused spiritualism and considered himself a reincarnation of Charles II, who through him was making amends for his previous life on earth.
He was short in stature, with high color, bright blue eyes and a reddish beard, and in defiance of black broadcloth wore rough tweeds and a soft felt hat. Strong in good will, he was weak in judgment. If he had possessed that quality in proportion to his qualities of mind and character, said Lord Milner, he would have been “simply irresistible.” Seeing in him, in exaggerated form, all the attributes of the English people of his generation, an American journalist summed him up as “the perfect type of Nineteenth Century man.” Milner saw him as a cross between Don Quixote and P. T. Barnum, which may have been the same thing.
Naturally a passionate advocate of arbitration, Stead saw it leading to the establishment of an international court of justice and eventually to a United States of Europe. Anticipating the Czar, he had in 1894 suggested an international pledge by the powers not to increase their military budgets until the end of the century. When the Russian proposal burst upon the world, Stead saw the greatest opportunity of his career. He determined at once on a personal tour of the capitals as part of a great campaign to convince people everywhere that the Czar was sincere and to arouse a collective cry of support for the Conference. The tour was to culminate in an interview with the Czar from which he was not deterred by the Prince of Wales’s opinion, conveyed through Lady Warwick, that the young ruler, his wife’s nephew, was “weak as water,… has no character and would not be the slightest use to you.” On the way, Stead planned to interview the Pope, the Kaiser and the President of France, as well as King Leopold of the Belgians whom he would persuade to become spokesman of a league of small powers. To ward off possible official interference he called on Mr. Balfour at the Foreign Office, whom he found at first “nonchalant and ironical” but who quickly hardened in response to Stead’s rhapsodies. Balfour failed to understand, he said, how Stead could contemplate so lightheartedly “the increasing growth and power of Russia.” For their own time it did not matter, “but what of our children?… What kind of world will it be when Russia exercises a dominating influence over the whole of south-east Europe?” He did not, however, offer to put any obstacles in Stead’s path.
Within a month of the first news, Stead was on his way. In Paris he failed to see President Félix Faure, although he did see Clemenceau, who said “nothing would come of the Conference” and refused to alter his opinion. King Leopold, the Kaiser and Pope Leo XIII likewise avoided him, but Nicholas II, in compliance with a promise which his father had given to Stead ten years ago, granted him not only one audience but three. The Imperial graciousness dazzled Stead, who, being unused to courts, took it for the man’s character and did not realize it was the monarch’s trade. In any case he was determined to produce a hero. The Czar, he told his readers, was charming, sympathetic, alert, lucid, with a keen sense of humor, hearty frankness, admirable modesty, noble gravity, high resolve, remarkable memory, “exceptional rapidity of perception and wide grasp of an immense range of facts,” and all these were at the service of the cause of peace. Stead’s paeans to Russia’s intentions so far outdistanced her real aims that the Russian ministers complained to the British Government of being “much embarrassed.” His articles, however, were manna to the peace movement. Back in London he brought out a new weekly, War Against War, organized the International Peace Crusade and did his hyperactive best to strengthen public demand for a Conference that could not, must not fail.
Public opinion was not all of a piece. If the Liberals—and not all of them—shared Stead’s enthusiasm, the Conservatives did not. In all peoples there was much of what William Ernest Henley hymned as “the battle spirit shouting in my blood.” It was what made Romain Rolland, who was one day to become famous as a pacifist, cry joyously in 1898, “Give me combat!” The materialism of the time, the increasing ease, the power of money to substitute for muscle, produced in many a feeling of distaste or even a seeking for the strenuous, as when young Theodore Roosevelt headed for the Rockies. People felt a need for something nobler and saw it glimmer in the prospect of danger and physical combat, in sacrifice, even death, on the battlefield. The journalist Henry Nevinson felt a martial ardor when he drilled as an officer of the Volunteers and offended his Socialist friends by declaring that he “would not care to live in a world in which there was no war.” In later years it seemed to him the ardor had derived partly from ignorance of war and partly from the influence of Kipling and Henley.
Within narrow limits Henley was the Conservatives’ Stead, although lacking Stead’s elemental force and social conscience. No Teutonic homage to the master race could outshout his celebration of “England, My England,” whose “mailed hand” guides teeming destinies, whose “breed of mighty men” is unmatched, whose ships are “the fierce old sea’s delight,” who is:
Chosen daughter of the Lord
Spouse-in-Chief of the ancient Sword.
There’s the menace of the Word
In the song on your bugles blown
Out of Heaven on your bugles blown!
This was patriotism gone mad and represented a mood, not a people. In the same mood Americans listened to Albert Beveridge rant, “We are a conquering race … we must obey our blood.”
Such sentiments were among the indirect results of the most fateful voyage since Columbus—Charles Darwin’s aboard the Beagle. Darwin’s findings in The Origin of Species, when applied to human society, supplied the philosophical basis for the theory that war was both inherent in nature and ennobling. War was a conflict in which the stronger and superior race survived, thus advancing civilization. Germany’s thinkers, historians, political and military scientists, working upon the theory with the industry of moles and the tenacity of bulldogs, raised it to a level of national dogma. Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Wagner’s son-in-law, supplied a racial justification in his Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, published in German, which showed that Aryans, being superior in body and soul to other men, had a right to be masters of the earth. Treitschke explained that war, by purifying and unifying a great people, was the source of patriotism. By invigorating them it was a source of strength. Peace was stagnant and decadent and the hope of perpetual peace was not only “impossible but immoral as well.” War as ennobling became by extension, in the words of Generals von der Goltz and Bernhardi, a necessity. It was the right and duty of the nobler, stronger, superior race to extend its rule over inferior peoples, which, in the German view, meant over the world. To other nations it meant over colonies. Darwinism became the White Man’s Burden. Imperialism acquired a moral imperative.
Darwin’s indirect effects reached apotheosis in Captain Mahan. “Honest collision” between nations was “evidently a law of progress,” he wrote in one of a series of articles in 1897–99 in which he tried to instruct Americans in their destiny. This one was called “The Moral Aspect of War.” In another, “A Twentieth Century Outlook,” he wrote that nothing was “more ominous for the future of our race” than the current vociferous tendency “which refuses to recognize in the profession of arms—in war” the source of “heroic ideal.” In a private letter he wrote, “No greater misfortune could well happen than that civilized nations should abandon their preparations for war and take to arbitration.” His thesis was that power, force, and ultimately war were the factors that decide great issues in a nation’s fate and that to depend on anything else, such as arbitration, was an illusion. If arbitration were substituted for armies and navies, European civilization “might not survive, having lost its fighting energy.” Yet Mahan believed the Twentieth Century would reveal that man’s conscience was improving. He could not have preached power so positively if he had not believed equally in progress. His moral rectitude shines in a photograph taken with his wife and two adult daughters. Four pairs of forthright eyes gaze straight at the camera. Four keel-straight noses, four firm mouths, the ladies’ high-necked blouses fastened with bar pin at the throat, the hats perched stiffly on high-piled hair, all express the person “assured of certain certainties,” a species soon to be as extinct as Ribblesdale.
The necessity of struggle was voiced by many spokesmen in many guises: in Henri Bergson’s élan vital, in Shaw’s Life Force, in the strange magic jumble of Nietzsche which was then spreading its fascination over Europe. Nietzsche recognized the waning of religion as a primary force in people’s lives and flung his challenge in three words: “God is dead.” He would have substituted Superman, but ordinary people substituted patriotism. As faith in God retreated before the advance of science, love of country began to fill the empty spaces in the heart. Nationalism absorbed the strength once belonging to religion. Where people formerly fought for religion now they would presumably do no less for its successor. A sense of gathering conflict filled the air. Yeats, living in Paris in 1895, awoke one morning from a vision of apocalypse:
… Unknown spears
Suddenly hurtle before my dream awakened eyes,
And then the clash of fallen horsemen and the cries
Of unknown perishing armies beat about my ears.
Quite unconnected, in the same year, the tap of distant drums sounded in the seclusion of A. E. Housman’s rooms:
On the idle hill of summer
Sleepy with the flow of streams,
Far I hear the steady drummer
Drumming like a noise in dreams.
Far and near and low and louder
On the roads of earth go by,
Dear to friends and food for powder,
Soldiers marching, all to die.…
Far the calling bugles hollo,
High the screaming fife replies,
Gay the files of scarlet follow:
Woman bore me, I will rise.
The Hague, as the capital of a small neutral country, was selected as site of the Conference and May 18, 1899, was fixed as the opening day. Advance arrangements stirred up a number of old animosities and current quarrels. China and Japan, Turkey and Greece, Spain and the United States had just finished wars; Britain and the Transvaal were warming up to one which threatened to break out at any moment. As host nation and ardent supporters of the Boers, the Dutch almost strangled the Conference before it could be born by demanding invitations for the Transvaal and Orange Free State. Turkey objected to the inclusion of Bulgaria, and Italy threatened to bolt if inclusion of the Vatican implied its recognition as a temporal power. Seeing “very sinister import” in this, Germany immediately suspected Italy of planning to secede from the Triple Alliance and herself threatened to withdraw from the Conference if any other major power did. These matters being surmounted, the nations proceeded to the naming of delegates.
The choices reflected the ambivalance of the agenda, concerned on the one hand with peace by arbitration and on the other with the conduct of war. Although arbitration had not been mentioned in the Czar’s manifesto it had been included in Muraviev’s agenda and since then, in the public mind, had become the major goal. The Boston Peace Crusade held meetings every week through March and April demanding that the United States commit itself to the goal of “a permanent tribunal for the Twentieth Century.” With Congress in crisis over the vote on the Peace Treaty with Spain, McKinley was urged to appoint President Eliot of Harvard in the hope of soothing anti-imperialist sentiment. As Eliot was unlikely to prove a manageable delegate, McKinley preferred a safer selection in Andrew White, former president of Cornell, now Ambassador in Berlin. Rising from Professor of History to civic eminence, White was a hardworking, high-minded man who believed in all the right things. At The Hague he was soon on friendly terms with the Duke of Tetuan, delegate of the late enemy, Spain, who shared with him “a passion for cathedral architecture and organ music.” Alongside White was appointed a delegate certain to act as watchdog of American interests and take a hard-headed view of the proceedings with which by no stretch of anyone’s imagination could he be considered in sympathy—Captain Mahan. His name appearing on the list deepened Germany’s suspicions of the Conference. “Our greatest and most dangerous foe,” noted the Kaiser darkly.
American instructions to the delegates began by rejecting the original purpose of the Conference. Arms limitation “could not profitably be discussed” because American arms were below the level of the European powers anyway and the initiative in this matter could be left to them. As to restrictions on the development of new weapons, it was considered “doubtful if an international agreement to this end could prove effective.” The delegates were to support efforts to make the laws of war more humane and they were themselves to propose a specific plan for an arbitration tribunal. They were also instructed to propose the immunity of private property from capture at sea, a seemingly bland suggestion which contained depths of unplumbed trouble.
France named as her chief delegate a former premier and friend of arbitration, Léon Bourgeois, whose term of office in 1895–96 had been taken up in a stubborn effort to enact the graduated income tax against the violent opposition of the Senate. It had only narrowly been defeated. With the Dreyfus Affair threatening a government crisis at any time which might bring Bourgeois back to office, The Hague offered a happy opportunity to remove him from the scene. “Amiable, elegant and eloquent,” according to a political colleague if not friend, Bourgeois “cultivated a fine ebony beard and expressed commonplace thoughts in a mellow voice.”
Already aroused by the Affair to a mood of super-patriotism, insulted by Russia’s failure to consult her in advance, determined to accept no fixing of the status quo, France welcomed the Conference no more than any other nation. “To renounce war is in a sense to renounce one’s country,” was the comment of a French officer on the Czar’s manifesto. Mme Adam, Gambetta’s friend and priestess of revanche, when invited to hear a lecture by Bertha von Suttner, replied, “I? To a lecture on peace? Certainly not. I am for war.” France nevertheless sent to The Hague, as second to Bourgeois, a dedicated apostle of peace, Baron d’Estournelles de Constant. A professional diplomat until the age of forty-three, he had become increasingly disturbed at the trend of international affairs until one day in 1895, shocked by a frivolous threat of war in a minor dispute, he resigned from diplomacy to enter politics and the Chamber in the cause of peace. A handsome man of polished manners he brought to the Conference as an official delegate the fervor and voice of the peace movement.
As initiators, the Russians provided the president of the Conference in the person of their Ambassador to London, Baron de Staal, a nice old gentleman with long white side whiskers and a square-crowned derby. He was described by the Prince of Wales as “one of the best men that ever lived,… who never said anything that was not true,” which was useful if not adequate equipment for his task. The real head of the Russian delegation was Feodor de Martens, Professor Emeritus of International Law at the University of St. Petersburg, who allowed no one to forget that he enjoyed a reputation as Europe’s leading jurist in his field. He was “a man of great knowledge,” said Witte, “but by no means broad-minded.” A future Chief of Staff, Colonel Jilinsky was the military delegate.
Count Münster, German Ambassador to Paris, in the wastebasket of whose Embassy the Dreyfus Affair began, looked forward with little pleasure to being his country’s chief delegate. “Beating empty air is always a tiresome job,” he wrote to a friend. Arms limitation was ausgeschlossen (“out of the question”), the favorite German word. Arbitration was important but agreement probably hopeless. To save Russia’s face the Conference could not be allowed to end in fiasco and its work must be covered with a “cloak of peace.” A courtly white-haired gentleman whom Andrew White regarded as a “splendid specimen” of an old-fashioned German nobleman, Münster had once been stationed in England, had married an English wife and was pleased by nothing so much as being taken for an English gentleman. Besides the military and naval delegates, he had two legal associates, Professor Zorn of the University of Königsberg and Professor Baron von Stengel of the University of Munich, whose chief qualification was a pamphlet he had just published entitled Eternal Peace which ridiculed the forthcoming Conference and extolled the virtues of war. Although Stengel said nothing abnormally different from what many in other countries believed, he said it after the German fashion rudely and loudly and the Kaiser’s prompt gesture in naming him a delegate needed no thumb to his nose to make the point. Stead, then in Berlin, protested, Bülow oozed explanations and the German comic papers caricatured Stengel as a bull introduced into a bed of tulips.
A kind of magic in the Conference had brought it to reality despite general contempt, and drew from Britain the compliment of a strong delegation. Its chief, Sir Julian Pauncefote, Ambassador to Washington, was, as the negotiator of the world’s first arbitration treaty, the outstanding champion of the idea in official life. A calm, heavy-set, unfussed dignitary who reminded people of a polar bear, he accomplished wonders of diplomacy by acting on the principle: “Never give way and never give offence.” “I never hesitated to open my whole heart to him,” said Secretary Hay, “for he was the soul of honor and of candor.” Accompanying him was the recently retired Speaker of the House, Sir Arthur Peel, whose impressive presence in the Chair had quelled the most troublesome members. “When Peel lost his temper it was like a storm at sea,” said one of them. “He could put up with a bore but he hated a cad, whether well or ill dressed.”
As military and naval delegates Lord Salisbury’s government selected two exceptional men from the upper ranks of their respective services. Major General Sir John Ardagh, after winning honors in Hebrew and mathematics at Trinity College, Dublin, had changed from a clerical to a military career. Subsequently he had been an observer in the Franco-Prussian and Russo-Turkish wars, seen active service in Egypt and the Sudan and was now Director of Military Intelligence.
His naval colleague was the most unsubdued individualist of his time, possessed of a vigor and impetus remarkable in any time. Admiral Sir John Fisher was a force of nature entirely directed to the renaissance of British sea power through modernization of the Navy. His only other mania was dancing, which he pursued from hornpipe to waltz at every opportunity, with other officers if necessary when there were no ladies present. Whatever he fought for was a struggle against the weight and lethargy of “the way it has always been” and his career was that of a fierce broom sweeping aside obsolescence in men as well as ships. He demanded oil instead of coal twenty years ahead of his time, substituted training in gunnery for cutlasses, training in engines and engineering for rigging and the handling of sails, introduced destroyers, pioneered in ordnance, armor and battleship design. During the bombardment of Alexandria when an armored train was needed to transport a landing force, he invented one. He had been Commandant of the Torpedo School, Director of Naval Ordnance, Superintendent of Dockyards, Third Sea Lord, Controller of the Navy and was currently Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Station.
Born in Malaya, Fisher had a strange flat smooth-shaven face which inspired his enemies, who were innumerable, to hint broadly at Oriental ancestry. On his flagship when he “prowled around with the steady rhythmical tread of a panther, the quarter deck shook and all hands shook with it. When the word was passed, ‘Look out, here comes Jack!’ everyone stood terribly to attention while the great one passed on and away.” Upon the orthodox his flow of ideas had an effect either paralyzing or maddening. When he talked of some new scheme or program he held his companion fixed with a glittering eye and emphasized every sentence with a blow of his fist on his palm. When he wrote letters his emphasis took the form of two, three or four lines under a word and he closed, not “in haste,” but “in violent haste!” or with the warning: “Burn this!” He liked to quote Napoleon’s maxim, J’ordonne ou je me tais (“I command or I keep quiet”), but he was incapable of practicing the second half.
At the moment, in case of war with France over Fashoda, he had conceived a plan to execute a naval raid on Devil’s Island and kidnap Dreyfus in order to land him on the coast of France to embarrass the Army and sow dissension. For the motto of one of his destroyers he chose Ut Veniant Omnes (Let them all come). His pretended principles of battle were “Give No Quarter, Take No Prisoners, Sink Everything, No Time for Mercy, Frappez vite et frappez fort, l’Audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace,” but this was intended more for moral effect than as serious tactics. When Lord Salisbury appointed him naval delegate to The Hague he remarked that there was no doubt Jacky Fisher would fight at the Peace Conference. “So I did,” wrote Fisher afterwards, “though it was not for peace.”
The Hague proved an inspired choice. The charm of the Huis ten Bosch (House in the Woods), summer palace of the House of Orange, where the Conference met, the pleasant half-hour’s drive from the seashore at Scheveningen, where many of the delegates stayed, the hospitality of the Netherlands Government and smiling welcome of its people, the summer weather and flowered countryside, could not fail to refresh the most cynical spirits. Black-and-white cows grazed peaceably along the roadside, canals reflected the radiant sky, the docile wings of windmills turned and sailboats moved seemingly over meadows, on waterways hidden by the tall grass. The once quiet town, a “gracious anachronism” of brick houses and cobblestone streets, bustled with welcome. Flags of all the nations decorated the staid hotels, windows were polished, doorsteps scrubbed, public buildings burnished and refurbished. Brought to animated life by its visitors, The Hague seemed to wake like a Sleeping Beauty from its Seventeenth Century slumbers.
The Huis ten Bosch was a royal château of red brick with white window frames set in a park on the outskirts of the town. Its windows opened on lawns and rose gardens, fountains and marble nymphs. In the woods which gave the place its name delegates could walk and talk between sessions along avenues of magnificent beeches where birds sang and the sun glinted through the leaves.
Plenary sessions were held in the central hall three stories high, hung with golden damask and frescoed with the triumphs of past Prince Stadtholders on throne and horseback. From the ceiling painted cupids, naked Venuses, and Death as a leering skeleton looked down upon the newly installed rows of green-baize desks seating 108 delegates from 26 countries. Black coats predominated, varied by military uniforms, by the Turks’ red fezzes and the blue silk gown of the Chinese delegate. The real work of the Conference took place in the subcommittees which met in the many small salons rich in Delft and Meissen, Chinese wallpaper and pale Persian carpets. Every day the Dutch hosts served a bountiful luncheon with fine wine and cigars under the crystal chandeliers of the White Dining Room, where the delegates could meet and talk informally. The taste and dignity of all the arrangements, the choice liqueurs, the beauty of the surroundings, the evening balls and receptions gradually began to mellow the mood of disdain in which the Conference began.
No such body had ever assembled “in a spirit of more hopeless skepticism as to any good result,” Andrew White believed when he arrived. The great Professor Mommsen of Germany, most admired historian of his time, predicted the Conference would be remembered as “a printer’s error in the history of the world.” Even some of Baroness von Suttner’s friends were less than hopeful. Prince Scipio Borghese, whom she invited to be present as an observer, replied that nothing would be more charming than to spend time with “un groupe du high-life pacifique,” but unfortunately in May he would have to attend his sister’s wedding in the depths of Hungary. During De Staal’s opening address, spoken in a voice alternately quavering and firm, the president dropped his wooden gavel, which was immediately, almost eagerly, seized upon as an ill omen. De Staal’s “deplorable” Russian ignorance of parliamentary procedure and his happy-go-lucky way of adopting rules and motions seemed to White to presage “hopeless chaos.”
The Conference divided itself into three Commissions: on Armaments, on the Laws of War, and on Arbitration, which in turn divided into subcommittees. The chairman of the First Commission was Auguste Beernaert, former premier and chief delegate of Belgium, who had once been called by King Leopold II “the greatest cynic in the kingdom.” A worldly politician in his early career, he had been the King’s right-hand man in the vast enterprise of the Congo as well as in Leopold’s efforts to fortify the Belgian frontier against invasion. Late in life, however, Beernaert had suffered a personality change and become a pacifist and regular attender of peace congresses. As President of the Belgian Chamber he still exercised political power. Professor de Martens of Russia was chairman of the Second Commission and Léon Bourgeois of the Third.
Delegates were uncomfortably aware of the conscience of the world over their shoulder in the person of a large “groupe du high-life pacifique” who had descended upon The Hague as observers. Expecting nothing but failure, the Conference had decided upon closed sessions from which the press was rigidly excluded. It proved a hopeless maneuver, since the press was led by W. T. Stead in person, acting as correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. Through importunate interviews and his myriad personal connections he was able to publish a daily chronicle of the Conference on a special page made available to him by the Dagblad, leading newspaper of The Hague. The delegates devoured it, all the other correspondents depended on it and the peace propagandists spread its news abroad to their home societies. Succumbing to the inevitable the Conference opened its meetings to the press.
Leading the observers was Baroness von Suttner, acting as correspondent for the Neue Freie Presse of Vienna. Convinced that May 18 was an “epoch making date in the history of the world,” she earnestly dispensed tea and talk to the delegates and conferred on strategy with D’Estournelles, Beernaert and her other friends. Ivan Bloch came from Russia with trunks full of copies of his book for distribution. He gave lectures with lantern slides for the public and receptions for the delegates combining excellent suppers with pictures and charts on the development of firearms. Dr. Benjamin Trueblood, Quaker secretary of the American Peace Society, came from Boston, and Charles Richet, editor of La Revue Scientifique and director of the French Peace Society, from Paris. The Queen of Rumania under her pen name, Carmen Sylva, sent a poem. Mme Selenka of Munich brought a pacifist petition signed by women of eighteen countries; a Belgian petition with 100,000 and a Dutch petition with 200,000 signatures were submitted. Andrew White found himself inundated by people with “plans, schemes, nostrums, notions and whimsies of all sorts” and by floods of pamphlets and books, letters, sermons and telegrams, petitions, resolutions, prayers and blessings. Yet behind the cranks he sensed evidence of a feeling “more earnest and widespread than anything I had dreamed.”
Count Münster on the other hand was disgusted. “The Conference has brought here the political riffraff of the entire world,” he wrote to Bülow, “journalists of the worst type such as Stead, baptized Jews like Bloch and female peace fanatics like Mme de Suttner.… All this rabble, actively supported by Young Turks, Armenians, and Socialists into the bargain, are working in the open under the aegis of Russia.” He saw Stead as “a proved agent in the pay of Russia” and the proceedings on the whole as a Russian plot to nullify Germany’s military advantage. Even in his native land, however, the “rabble” found an echo when a committee of Reichstag deputies, professors and writers urged support of the aims of the Conference. Although opposed to any arrangement that could “even to infinitesimal degree lower Germany’s position among nations,” it hoped for some result to relieve Europe of the burden of armament taxation and to prevent the outbreak of wars.
Feeling themselves the cynosure of the world’s hope, the delegates began to feel the stirring of a desire not to disappoint it. After the first two weeks of work, reported Pauncefote, they “became interested in spite of themselves.” Some, at least, began to want to succeed, from “amour-propre” as van Karnebeek, the Netherlands delegate, said, if from nothing else. Some, affected by the coming together of so many nations, began to look ahead to “a federation of the nations of Europe.… That is the dream that begins to rise at The Hague. Europe must choose either to pursue the dream—or anarchy.”
For arbitration some hope sprouted but for arms limitation, whether of present forces, budgets or new weapons, there was none. Despite the desperate efforts of the Russians and the warm support of the small states and many civilian delegates, every proposal for restriction or moratorium was shown to be “impractical” by the military delegates of the major powers. The issue came to a head when Colonel Jilinsky of Russia urged a five-year moratorium in a peroration calling on the nations to rid themselves of the burden that was crushing the life out of Europe. Eloquently supporting him, General den Beer Portugael of the Netherlands pictured the governments “bound together like Alpine climbers by the rope of their military organizations” and tottering toward the edge of the abyss unless they could halt by a “supreme effort.” Rising to his feet, the German military delegate, Colonel Gross von Schwartzkopf, cut through the eloquence as if by a stroke of cold steel. The German people, he said, were “not crushed beneath the weight of armament expenditures.… They are not hastening toward exhaustion and ruin.” On the contrary their prosperity, welfare and standard of living were rising. Carried away by his subject, Colonel Schwartzkopf did not shrink from taking upon Germany the duty of opposing the moratorium, saving any of the other major powers that awkward task. When it became clear that Germany would be a party to no moratorium of any kind and consequently that there was not the least chance of its being approved, the other nations were happy to vote in favor of submitting it for further consideration to a subcommittee. In this way, wrote Sir John Fisher, explaining his vote to his government, Russian feelings would be spared and the public would not feel that England was blocking fulldiscussion of the proposal.
In committee at The Hague, Fisher behaved himself with surprising circumspection; unofficially he remained normal. “The humanizing of war!” he exploded. “You might just as well talk of humanizing Hell!” His reply to a “silly ass” who talked about “the amenities of civilised warfare and putting your prisoners’ feet in hot water and giving them gruel,” was considered unfit for publication. In Stead’s autograph book he wrote, “The supremacy of the British Navy is the best security for the peace of the world.” He stayed at the Hotel Kurhaus in Scheveningen which from his description appeared to suit him admirably: “Such a rush always going on. Band plays at breakfast and at lunch and at dinner!!! Huge boxes arrive continuously and the portier rushes about like a wild animal. Railway, telegraph and post offices in the hotel!” Among the naval delegates Fisher was treated with worshipful respect, and his promotion in the midst of the Conference to Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Station “fetched all the foreigners very much,” including even Baroness von Suttner who regretted his absence from a ball given by De Staal since he was one of the “jolliest dancers.” He was called the “Dancing Admiral,” and as he was personally most gracious and put on no airs, “no man at The Hague,” reported Stead, “was more popular.” His contact with the German delegates convinced Fisher that Germany, not France, was going to be Britain’s opponent. He learned from the German naval delegate that all British ships would be useless in war as the Germans expected to sink them by hordes of torpedo boats.
Britain was favorably disposed to naval limitation as it would have curbed the German naval program and preserved the status quo. Her support depended, however, on finding a formula for inspection and control which Fisher reported was “absolutely unrealisable.” He did not think highly of a Russian suggestion that the good faith of governments might be relied on. Russia should have said straight out, remarked the French delegate rather pitilessly, that her real aim was simply the assurance of peace for three years. The Germans would again hear of no limitation and Japan, according to a British report, “will only listen when she has reached the standard of the great naval powers, that is to say, never.”
The United States’ position was made unequivocal by its hard realist, Captain Mahan, privately if not in the public meetings. His government, he told the British, would on no account even discuss naval limitation; on the contrary, the coming struggle for the markets of China would require a “very considerable” increase in the American squadron in the Pacific, which would affect the interests of at least five powers. In every commission and discussion Mahan made his presence felt like a voice of conscience saying “No”; it was, however, a conscience operating not in behalf of peace but in behalf of the unfettered exercise of belligerent power. He had “the deepest seriousness of all,” wrote one observer.
It led him to oppose his own government’s traditional position in favor of the immunity of private property at sea. What had been good for the United States as a weak neutral, Mahan believed, would no longer be good for her as a Great Power. The right of capture was the essence of sea power, especially of British sea power, with which he believed America’s interests were now united. He looked ahead to the rights of the belligerent rather than back to the rights of the neutral.
When White, according to instructions, attempted to have the matter put on the agenda, Fisher carried the opposition for Mahan. Take the case of neutral coal, he suggested: “You tell me that I must not seize these colliers. I tell you that nothing that you, or any power on earth, can say will stop me from seizing them or sending them to the bottom, if I can in no other way keep their coal out of the enemy’s hands.” For the opposite reason Germany, of course, supported the American proposal of immunity from capture. For once in favor of something, Count Münster jumped at the chance to put “our powerful influence behind this principle” and Bülow was delighted to approve a measure so obviously “in the interests of humanity in general.” Both were pulled up short by their own naval delegate, Captain Siegel, whose reasoning suggested the mind of a chess-player trained by a Jesuit. The purpose of a navy, he pointed out to his government, was to protect the seaborne commerce of its country. If the immunity of private property were accepted, the Navy’s occupation would be gone. The public would demand reduction in warships and refuse to support naval appropriations in the Reichstag. In short, Captain Siegel made it clear that if the German Navy was to have a raison d’être, property must be left open to seizure, even in the interest of the enemy.
Discussions of this kind stimulated and absorbed the participants. The conduct of war was so much more interesting than its prevention. When the restriction of new weapons or prohibition of as yet undeveloped ones came up for discussion, the military and naval men, as alert as Captain Siegel, keenly defended their freedom of enterprise. The Russian proposal that the powers should agree “not to radically transform their guns or increase their calibres for a certain fixed period” was allowed to founder on the problem of inspection and control. Sir John Ardagh pointed out there would be nothing to prevent a state from constructing rifles of a new pattern and storing them in arsenals until needed. This caused a Russian delegate, M. Raffalovitch, to reply hotly that “public opinion and parliamentary institutions” should be adequate safeguard. Considering the source, this was not impressive. Mahan raised the same objection to proposals for limiting the calibre of naval guns, thickness of armor plate and velocity of projectiles. Any form of international control, he said, would be an invasion of sovereignty, to which all the delegates at once agreed.
In the debate on extending the rules of the Geneva Red Cross Convention of 1868 to naval warfare, the question was raised of rescuing sailors from the water after battle. This was the occasion that evoked Fisher’s explosion about feeding prisoners gruel. When the debate was over his chief was able to report, “Thanks to the energetic attitude and persistent efforts of Sir John Fisher all provisions of the original articles which were likely in any way to fetter or embarrass the free action of the Belligerents have been carefully eliminated.”
An ominous issue developed on the rights of defense of an unarmed population against armed invasion. Ardagh proposed an amendment changing the “liberty” of a population to oppose the invader to its “duty” to do so, adding, “by all legitimate means of the most energetic and patriotic resistance”—which won him the enthusiastic response of the small powers. Colonel Schwartzkopf “opposed it tooth and nail,” supported for once by the Russians. “If anything was required to show the need for some article of the kind,” Ardagh reported, it was the “bitter resistance” of the Germans and Russians which accomplished the amendment’s defeat. This committee then turned its attention more successfully to such questions as the treatment of spies and prisoners of war; the prohibition of poison; treachery and ruses; the bombardment of undefended towns; and rules governing flags of truce, surrender, armistice and occupation of hostile territory.
In the committee on limiting new weapons the negative trend had become somewhat embarrassing. Everyone was therefore delighted to fall upon the question of dumdum, or expanding, bullets, which offered an opportunity both to outlaw something and to vent the general anti-British feeling of the time. Developed by the British to stop the rush of fanatical tribesmen, the bullets were vigorously defended by Sir John Ardagh against the heated attack of all except the American military delegate, Captain Crozier, whose country was about to make use of them in the Philippines. In warfare against savages, Ardagh explained to an absorbed audience, “men penetrated through and through several times by our latest pattern of small calibre projectiles, which make a small clean hole,” were nevertheless able to rush on and come to close quarters. Some means had to be found to stop them. “The civilized soldier when shot recognizes that he is wounded and knows that the sooner he is attended to the sooner he will recover. He lies down on his stretcher and is taken off the field to his ambulance, where he is dressed or bandaged by his doctor or his Red Cross Society according to the prescribed rules of the game as laid down in the Geneva Convention.
“Your fanatical barbarian, similarly wounded, continues to rush on, spear or sword in hand; and before you have had time to represent to him that his conduct is in flagrant violation of the understanding relative to the proper course for the wounded man to follow—he may have cut off your head.” Behind the flippant words Ardagh was making the point that war was a bitter business and, more politely than Fisher, was ridiculing the notion that it could be civilized. Unimpressed, the delegates voted 22–2, against the unyielding opposition of Britain supported by the United States, to prohibit the use of the dumdum bullet.
Unanimity, elusive so far, was at last achieved on one topic: the launching of projectiles or explosives from balloons. Here was something, almost untried, that almost everyone was willing to ban, especially the Russians, for whom the prospect of adding a new dimension to warfare was altogether too much. As Colonel Jilinsky almost plaintively put it, “In the opinion of the Russian Government the various means of injuring the enemy now in use are sufficient.” As regards air warfare, most of the delegates were willing to agree and a permanent prohibition was voted. The committee congratulated itself. Then suddenly at the next meeting Captain Crozier, having had serious second thoughts after consultation with Captain Mahan, raised an objection. They were proposing to ban forever, he said, a weapon of which they had no experience. New developments and inventions might soon make airships dirigible, enabling them to be steered by motor power over the area of battle and to take part at a critical moment with possibly decisive effect, thus in the long run sparing lives and shortening the conflict. Would it be in the humanitarian interest to prevent such a development? Instead of permanent prohibition, Captain Crozier proposed a five-year ban at the end of which period they would have a better idea of the capabilities of airships. This time impressed, the delegates agreed.
A proposed ban on the use of asphyxiating gas failed of unanimity by one vote—Captain Mahan’s. He stubbornly refused to withdraw his negative on the ground that the United States was averse to restricting “the inventive genius of its citizens in providing weapons of war.” Nothing had yet been done toward inventing it, and if it were, Mahan believed that gas would be less inhuman and cruel than submarine attack, which the Conference had not outlawed. Against his lone negative, nevertheless, the delegates adopted a ban on asphyxiating gas.
In the world outside The Hague, Chinese nationalists under the name “Righteous Fists,” or Boxers, were attacking foreigners in Pekin, Boers and British had reached the edge of war in South Africa, Americans had launched war upon Filipinos, there were labour riots in Italy, police shot and killed demonstrators in Spain, a parliamentary crisis over manhood suffrage exploded in Belgium and everyone was talking about the assault on the French President at the races. “How bored Europe would be if it were not for France,” patriotically reflected the correspondent of Le Temps. M. Bourgeois rushed home to try his hand in the crisis but decided after all not to undertake the burden of government, and, as Jaurès commented rather sourly, “the angel of arbitration flies back once more to The Hague, to return when the danger is over.”
Amid the charms of the Huis ten Bosch, the prospect of a largely negative outcome, so lightly assumed at the start, began to cause anxiety about the public reaction, especially that of the Socialists, society’s “awful conscience.” If the Conference were to end in mere pious but empty ceremony, it was feared, the Socialists would triumphantly denounce the failure as further evidence of the impotence of governments and declare themselves the true representatives of humanity against its masters. Delegates quoted to each other Baron d’Estournelles’ story that when he left Paris, Jaurès had said to him, “Go on, do all you can at The Hague, but you will labour in vain. You can accomplish nothing there, your schemes will fail and we shall triumph.” Through the summer, as one delegate said, the Socialists prowled around The Hague like a cat around a bird cage. In Amsterdam they organized a mass meeting of three thousand which denounced the pretended efforts of the governments and declared peace could never be achieved except through the organization of the masses against the capitalists.
“Why does no one write over the door of the Conference, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin?” asked the anonymous correspondent of Le Temps who left such a vivid record of that summer. Watching Dutch fishermen’s children playing in the streets and pairs of smiling girls who strolled by coquettishly, he wrote, “If this great assembly does not achieve its purpose, the stupid rivalries of states may one day mow down these young people and lay their corpses by millions on the battlefields.”
Hope for the Conference now lay in the Arbitration Commission. The chief delegates of the major powers, Pauncefote, White, Bourgeois, Munster, de Staal, all sat on this commission; its labours were the center of attention; its members, drawn forward by the pull of public opinion, really worked; discussions were animated and strong feelings generated. The British, Russians and Americans had each come with a draft proposal for a permanent tribunal; Pauncefote’s plan, which did not require obligatory submission of disputes, was accepted as the basis for discussion. Count Münster, flanked by his two professors, declared from the start that Germany was utterly opposed to arbitration of any kind in any form. The whole idea was nothing but “humbug,” he told White, and “injurious” to Germany because his country, as he was not shy in explaining, “is prepared for war as no other country is or can be” and could mobilize in ten days, faster than France or Russia or any other power. To submit to arbitration a dispute which might lead finally to war would simply give rival powers time to catch up and cancel Germany’s advantage of rapid mobilization. “Exactly,” noted the Kaiser in the margin of Münster’s report, “that’s the object of this whole hoax.”
The Kaiser invariably became frenetic at the mere mention of arbitration, which he saw an incursion on his personal sovereignty and as a plot to deprive Germany of the gains achieved by her matchless military organization. Nevertheless, with Pauncefote, White and Bourgeois determined to achieve something, the Commission persisted in the effort to hammer out some form of tribunal. The civilian delegates laboured against the heavy resistance of their own governments and military colleagues, who were deeply disturbed at the least hint of the compulsory principle. No one wanted to give up an inch of sovereignty or an hour of military advantage and at times the outlook seemed hopeless. On a day when the wind blew from the sea, Baroness von Suttner wrote in her diary, “Cold, cold are all hearts—cold as the draft that penetrates the rattling windows. I feel chilled to the bone.”
But the necessity of presenting some result to the public was overriding, and tentatively, bit by bit, a tribunal, though puny, began to take shape. Any suggestion of giving it authority over disputes involving “honor or vital interest” caused it to totter toward collapse. The Austrian delegate saw no objection to a tribunal which could decide on minor matters of dispute “such as for instance the interpretation of a Postal or Sanitary commission,” but he resolutely rejected anything more. The Balkan delegates in a group—Rumania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece—created a crisis when they threatened to walk out if a provision for “investigating commissions” was retained. With utmost difficulty, one agreement at a time, the tribunal’s powers and procedures were defined—but not unanimously.
Germany would agree to nothing. The other nations who equally disliked the idea without wishing to say so could rely on Münster’s daily negative vote to do their work for them. A tribunal without Germany’s adhesion, White wrote despairingly, would seem to the world “a failure and perhaps a farce.” He argued earnestly and daily with the German delegates to convince them that their obstruction would only result in the Czar becoming the idol of the plain people of the world and the Kaiser the object of its hatred. They had no right to allow their “noble and gifted” sovereign to be put in this position. He repeated D’Estournelles’ story of what Jaurès had said, and when this seemed to make an impression he repeated it in a letter to Bülow and sought out Stead and told him to use it “in every way.” Stead complied with such zest that Professor Zorn complained of the “terrorism of the Stead-Suttner press” and warned his government that to abstain from all collaboration raised the danger of Germany being denounced as the “sole troubler of peace.” From St. Petersburg the German Ambassador warned Bülow that if the Conference brought forth nothing the Czar would be personally insulted and the world would ascribe the “responsibility and odium of failure to us.”
Pressure began to tell. Münster was wavering when a despatch arrived from Berlin stating that the Kaiser had declared himself “strongly and finally” against arbitration. In desperation White persuaded Münster to send Zorn to Berlin and he himself sent Frederick Holls, secretary of the American delegation, to present the issue in person to the Kaiser and his ministers. Friday’s scheduled meeting of the Arbitration Commission was postponed until they could report back on Monday. Returning to his hotel White found a visitor, “of all men in the world,” Thomas B. Reed, whose “bigness, heartiness, shrewdness” and fascinating conversation helped him to pass the anxious weekend.
In Berlin the Kaiser eluded the interviewers but not a report from Bülow which regretfully advised that the “very popular” idea of arbitration had taken hold of the Conference, won the support of the English, Italians, Americans and even the Russians, leaving Germany in isolated opposition.The margin grew lurid with the Kaiser’s disgust. “I consented to all this nonsense only in order that the Czar should not lose face before Europe,” he scribbled. “In practice however I shall rely on God and my sharp sword! And I shit on all their decisions.”
This evidently being recognized as His Majesty’s gracious consent, word that Germany would sign the arbitration agreement was received at The Hague two days later. At last something would come of the Conference and the awful spectre of nullity and a Socialist triumph receded. Delegates worked mightily to draw up a convention of sixty-one articles, while applying “a zeal almost macabre” to removing any trace of compulsory character. They were ready for a final vote in the closing week of the Conference when it was suddenly frustrated by, of all people, the Americans. Delegates were stunned. Deeply embarrassed, White announced that his delegation could not sign Article 27, the particular contribution of the French, which required signatories to consider it their “duty” to remind parties to a dispute of the existence of the tribunal.
White’s painful predicament was the work of Captain Mahan, who was in turn reacting indirectly to Stead. Under the influence of Stead’s over-enthusiastic reports, the Manchester Guardian had hailed the draft of the Arbitration Convention as a great pacific instrument which if it had been operative in 1898 would have required the European powers to bring Spain and the United States to arbitration and would have prevented the war between them. Reading the article, Mahan was appalled. The “honest collision” might have been missed. For the future he saw a net of entanglements spreading before America’s unwary feet. Summoning his fellow delegates he insisted that Article 27 would commit the United States to interfere in European affairs and vice versa, and if signed, would lead the Senate to refuse to ratify the tribunal. Mesmerized and convinced by his implacable logic, White and the others on the delegation submitted, although all their careful work was risked. If the Americans refused to sign a part of the agreement, other nations might back out and the whole delicately assembled structure fall apart. Urgently White tried to persuade the French to drop Article 27 or at least qualify the word “duty.” Bourgeois and D’Estournelles refused to change so much as a comma. Fiasco loomed. Closing ceremonies were scheduled for the following day, July 29. In desperate maneuvers White sought a compromise. At the last minute the Americans arranged to sign under a qualifying phrase disclaiming any obligation to “intrude, mingle or entangle” themselves in European politics. By forceps and barely breathing, Arbitration was pulled into the world.
Total results of the Hague Conference were three Conventions: on Arbitration; Laws and Customs of War on Land; and Extension of the Geneva Rules to Maritime Warfare; three Declarations: on Projectiles from Balloons, Asphyxiating Gases, and Expanding Bullets; six “Wishes” for future accomplishment; and a Resolution. The last expressed the opinion of the Conference that limitation of military expenditures and of new types of weapons was “highly desirable for the moral and material benefit of humanity” and should be the subject of “further study” by the states. It was a pious dirge for all that was left of the original Russian purpose, yet the delegates did not seem ready to bury the Hague idea. However cynically they had come and however stunted their product, most of them could not but feel a sense of having participated in something important and a desire that the foundations they had laid should not be lost. They registered the feeling in a “Wish” for a Second Conference at some future date—although the idea did not please everyone. Count Münster crustily departed saying he had no desire to see international conferences perpetuate themselves like “bad weeds.”
Three months after the Peace Conference, Britain went to war in South Africa. The Dreyfus Affair had distracted attention from the Conference, one ex-delegate commented sadly, and now the Boer War seemed to contradict it. Its unconscious epitaph was left to Andrew White in the form of a reluctant tribute paid to his difficult colleague, Captain Mahan: “When he speaks, the millennium fades.”
By the time the Second Conference met in 1907, again at The Hague, war, revolution, new alliances, new governments, new leaders and most notably a new century had intervened. The Twentieth was already unmistakably modern, which is to say it was absorbed in pursuit of the material with maximum vigor and diminished self-assurance; it had forgotten decadence and acquired doubt. Mechanical energy and material goods were redoubling and dominant, but whether beneficent had somehow become a question. Progress, the great certainty of the Nineteenth, no longer appeared so sure.
People felt awe at the turn of the century, as if the hand of God were turning a page in human fate. Cannons were fired at midnight in Berlin to mark the moment and one listener heard the sound “with a kind of shiver: one knew all that the Nineteenth Century had carried away; one did not know what the Twentieth would bring.”
To begin with, it brought violence. The new century was born brawling, in the Boxer Rebellion, in the Philippines, in South Africa, although the brawls were still on the periphery. In 1900 France was restless and so filled with frustrated rage that Punch predicted her first act on the day after the International Exposition closed would be to declare war on England, “for they have been held in for so long it will be necessary to do something desperate at once.” In 1900 the Kaiser exhorted German troops embarking on the punitive expedition to Pekin to emulate Huns in ruthlessness. In the course of the Boxer Rebellion he experienced the inconvenience of too much zeal in the munitions business. Learning that a German gunboat had suffered seventeen hits in a duel with Chinese forts equipped with the latest Krupp cannon, he sent Fritz Krupp an angry telegram: “This is no time when I am sending my soldiers to battle against the yellow beasts to try to make money out of so serious a situation.”
Money and bigness governed. Morgan in 1900 bought out Carnegie to form with Rockefeller and a hundred other firms the corporate colossus, U. S. Steel, the world’s first billion-dollar holding company. King Leopold of Belgium, the Morgan of Europe, a builder too big for his country, created a moneymaking empire out of the Congo while British and Americans, busy killing Boers and Filipinos, loudly deplored his methods. Three hundred men, it was said, “all acquainted with each other, controlled the economic destiny of the Continent.”
In 1900 Oscar Wilde, a bloated ruin at forty-four, died in Paris, and Nietzsche, aged fifty-five and mad, died at Weimar. “Then in 1900,” wrote W. B. Yeats, “everybody got down off his stilts; henceforth no one went mad; nobody committed suicide; nobody joined the Catholic Church or if they did I have forgotten. Victorianism had been defeated.” Some welcomed, some regretted the defeat but the fact was clear. As if to mark the event, the Queen herself incredibly was no more.
The year 1900 conveyed a sense of forces and energy running away with the world. Henry Adams felt moved to evolve a “Law of Acceleration” in history. He felt as if he could never drive down the Champs Elysées without expecting an accident or stand near an official without expecting a bomb. “So long as the rate of progress held good, these bombs would double in force and number every ten years.… Power leaped from every atom.… Man could no longer hold it off. Forces grasped his wrists and flung him about as though he had hold of a live wire or a runaway automobile.”
Adams’ choice of simile was apt, for the automobile was one of the century’s two most potent factors of future social change; the other was man’s unconscious. Although unrecognized in potential, it too was formulated in 1900, in a book, The Interpretation of Dreams, by a Viennese doctor, Sigmund Freud. Although the book attracted little attention and it took eight years to sell out the edition of six hundred copies, its appearance was the signal that Victorianism indeed was dead.
The International Exposition of 1900 covering 277 acres in the heart of Paris displayed the new century’s energies to fifty million visitors from April to November. If they could not for this Exposition equal the Eiffel Tower of the last, the French built with the same élan a new miracle of engineering and beauty in the Pont Alexandre III, whose low graceful arch spanned the Seine in a single leap. It was considered “peerless in all the world” and the two new permanent exhibition buildings on the right bank, the Grand and Petit Palais, were unanimously acknowledged to be “suitable and grand.” Not so the Porte Monumentale, or main gate, in the Place de la Concorde, built of what appeared to one observer to be lath, plaster, broken glass, putty, old lace curtains and glue. At its top, instead of a traditional goddess of Progress or Enlightenment, a plaster Parisienne in evening gown welcomed the world with open arms. Although considered gay and chic by some, the gate was generally deplored as the epitome of the new vulgarity of the new century. Multicolored electric lights played on towering electrically powered fountains at night; the new Metro was opened in time; a track for automobile testing and racing was built at the Expo annex at Vincennes. Of all the wonders the public’s favorite was thetrottoir roulant, a double moving sidewalk circling the grounds, one half of which moved twice as fast as the other. In the temporary buildings, the architects, striving for sensation, had achieved what seemed exciting originality to some and “a debauch of stucco” to others. Industrial exhibits in the Palaces of Machinery, Electricity, Civil Engineering and Transportation, Mining and Metallurgy, Chemical Industries and Textiles, displayed all the extraordinary advances of the past decade.
Of the national pavilions the most popular was the Russian, an exotic Byzantine palace with a Trans-Siberian Railway exhibit in which the visitor could sit in a sumptuous railway carriage and enjoy a moving panorama of the scenery. The Viennese was a fantasy of Art Nouveau with fretwork balconies in the form of curling vines and the sinuous lines of the new style curving through ceramics and furniture. The United States had the greatest number of exhibits but Germany’s show was the most imposing, clearly superior in quality and arrangement. It affirmed an intense will to surpass every other exhibitor. Germany’s dynamos were the largest, the spire of her pavilion the tallest, its searchlight the brightest, its restaurant the most expensive. The Kaiser himself, it was rumored, had commanded the finest china and silver, the most delicate glassware, the most luxurious service, so that one felt in the presence, as one visitor said, of a real style “William the Second.”
In all the Exposition the two largest single exhibits were Schneider-Creusot’s long-range cannon and Vickers-Maxim’s collection of ferocious, quick-firing machine guns. Beholders gazed at them with solemn thoughts. An English correspondent in particular was moved to philosophize on the real meaning of the Exposition for the new era it introduced. Schneider’s great gun seemed to him to hold the world collected in Paris under its threat and to mark the passage of war from a realm of sport to a realm of science in which the making of weapons absorbed the ingenuity of mankind. If a lull ever came, he wrote, the arts of peace might revive, “but meanwhile the Paris Exhibition has taught us that the triumph of the modern world is purely mechanical.”
The triumphs continued. In 1900 Max Planck broke the chains of classical Newtonian physics to formulate the quantum theory of energy. In Switzerland in 1905 Albert Einstein obtained his doctorate at the University of Zurich with a dissertation on a new theory of relativity. In 1901 wireless telegraphy spanned the Atlantic and Daimler supplanted the horseless carriage with a vehicle distinctly a motorcar. In 1903 a motorized dirigible flying machine flew at Kitty Hawk. But no epoch is all of a piece. To some the almost daily new miracles accomplished by science and mechanics still carried, not a threat as to Henry Adams, but a promise of progress in social justice. “It seemed merely a matter of decades,” thought Stefan Zweig, a young intellectual of Vienna, “before the last vestiges of evil and violence would finally be conquered.”
In 1900 the German Naval Law precipitated the abandonment of isolation by England. Providing for nineteen new battleships and twenty-three cruisers in the next twenty years, it made explicit Germany’s challenge to British supremacy at sea, the fulcrum of Britain’s existence. It convinced Britain that she needed friends. In 1901 the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty put a bottom under good relations with the United States. In 1902 the isolation of self-sufficient strength, once so splendid and confident, was ended forever by a formal alliance with Japan. In 1903 the new King of England, Edward VII, prepared the ground for reconciliation with France by a visit of ceremony to Paris carried out with tact and aplomb. In 1904 the new policy culminated in an Anglo-French Entente, disposing of old quarrels, establishing a new friendship and fundamentally defining the balance of Europe.
At the same time, England set about refitting her physical forces to meet a world full of new challenges. Her Army having been revealed in action as something less than in step with modern times, Balfour, now Prime Minister, set up a Committee of Imperial Defence to formulate strategy and reorganize and modernize the armed forces. He appointed Sir John Fisher as one of its three members and would have appointed Captain Mahan to succeed Lord Acton as Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge but that King Edward objected on the ground that English historians were available. For all his rarefied pose, Balfour’s appreciation of the two hard-headed veterans of The Hague revealed a bent parallel to theirs. In 1904 he appointed Fisher First Sea Lord. The new head of the Navy had momentous plans in mind.
In the same year, Russia went to war with Japan, soon to become mired in a series of losing campaigns marked by the surrender of Port Arthur in January, 1905, and a humiliating, although not decisive, defeat at the Battle of Mukden in March. Three weeks later the alarm bell rang for Europe in Morocco.
To Germany’s intense resentment, the Anglo-French Entente had recognized a French sphere of influence in Morocco. Now that Russia could not come to France’s aid, Bülow and Holstein determined on a test of strength that would expose the weakness, as they believed, of the Entente. On March 31, 1905, the Kaiser stunningly, if nervously, descended upon Tangier in a challenge that every nation recognized. Europe shook under the impact and the gesture succeeded too well. It completed the work of the Kruger telegram, convincing Germany’s neighbors of her ultimate belligerent intent and of the need for more specific preparations than a mere Entente. “Roll up the map of Europe,” Pitt had said in despair ninety-nine years before when Napoleon won at Austerlitz. In a different spirit England unrolled it now. She entered into military conversations with France, underpinning their partnership with arms and envisioning, for the first time since Waterloo, an expeditionary force to the Continent in aid of a specific ally against a specific enemy.
In May, 1905, the Russian Baltic Fleet met its fatal rendezvous in the Straits of Tsushima in the world’s first head-on clash of modern capital ships on the high seas. Though the Russian fleet was annihilated, its defeat did not end the war, thus proving Bloch’s thesis, though few realized it, that against the total resources of a nation, victories on the battlefield were no longer decisive. Japan’s victory startled the Old World and warned the New. Three months after Tsushima, in July, 1905, the President of the United States offered to mediate between Russia and Japan, less to save the Russians than to halt the Japanese, who seemed to him to have gone far enough. Accepting the offer, the parties came to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in August to negotiate a peace treaty under the aegis of the President of the United States. It was a significant moment in Western history. For McKinley or Cleveland or Harrison to have played such a role would have been unimaginable, but a new strength and a new man were now at work.
“Theodore! with all thy faults …” was the one-line editorial in which the New York Sun had expressed its Presidential preference in the election of the previous year. Its candidate, now President in his own right, was exuberantly in charge of a country booming with prosperity. With industry stimulated by the Spanish-American War, the depression, unemployment and savage labour troubles of the nineties had subsided and the bitter class feeling of the McKinley-Bryan campaign of 1896 was dulled by the full dinner pail. The Progressives, who were the new Left, were expansionist and believed America’s direction was “onward and upward.” President Roosevelt leading the march settled the coal strike, “took” Panama, began the building of the Canal, challenged the trusts, slapped the name “muck-rakers” on crusading journalists, bullied the Kaiser out of Venezuela, and when a presumed American citizen was kidnaped by bandits in Morocco, sent the American Fleet to the rescue with the resounding demand (phrased by John Hay): “We want Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!”
“The President is in his best mood,” said his friend Jules Jusserand, the French Ambassador, “he is always in his best mood.” He had the memtal energy of a geyser and the flaws of Everyman. His Attorney-General, Philander Knox, rather admired the way the President ignored his advice and once remarked, “Ah, Mr. President, why have such a beautiful action marred by any taint of legality.” President Eliot still did not admire him, although when Roosevelt came to Cambridge in 1905 for his twenty-fifth reunion Eliot had felt obliged to invite him to stay at his house. On his arrival, perspiring and in need of a wash, Roosevelt pulled off his coat, rolled it up and flung it across the bedroom so violently it knocked a pillow to the floor, took a large pistol from his pocket and slammed it on the dresser. After washing up, “he came rushing downstairs as if his life depended on it,” and when Eliot asked, “Now, are you taking breakfast with me?” replied, “Oh no, I promised Bishop Lawrence I would take breakfast with him—and good gracious!”—clapping his right hand to his side—“I’ve forgotten my gun!” Retrieving it, the President of the United States rushed off to see the Bishop while the president of Harvard, horrified by violation of a Massachusetts law against carrying pistols, muttered, “Very lawless; a very lawless mind.”
The pistol represented, perhaps, less a lawless mind than the creed of the time that life was a fight. No one felt it more deeply than Roosevelt. He despised Tolstoy’s “foolish theory that men should never make war,” for he believed that “the country that loses its capacity to hold its own in actual warfare will ultimately show that it has lost everything.” He was infuriated when the peace advocates equated progress in civilization with “a weakening of the fighting spirit”; such a weakening, as he saw it, invited the destruction of the more advanced by the less advanced. He confused the desire for peace with physical cowardice and harped curiously on this subject: “I abhor men like [Edward Everett] Hale and papers like the Evening Post and the Nation in all of whom there exists absolute physical dread of danger and hardship and who therefore tend to hysterical denunciation and fear of war.” He deplored what seemed to him, as he looked around, a “general softening of fibre, a selfishness and luxury, a relaxation of standards” and especially “a spirit such as that of the anti-imperialists.” “That’s my man!” the Kaiser used to say whenever Roosevelt’s name was mentioned.
No President had a more acute sense of his own public relations. When Baron d’Estournelles came in 1902 to beg him to do something to breathe life into the Arbitration Tribunal, Roosevelt listened. “You are a danger and a hope for the world depending on whether you support aggression or arbitration,” d’Estournelles said. “The world believes you incline to the side of violence. Prove the contrary.”
“How?” the President asked.
“By giving life to the Hague Court.” Roosevelt promptly instructed Secretary Hay to find something to submit for arbitration and Hay obligingly uncovered an old quarrel between the United States and Mexico over church property, the first dispute to activate the Tribunal. Having been Secretary of State during the Hague Conference and sympathetic to arbitration, Hay wanted to build up the prestige of the Tribunal and now arranged to divert to it the dispute over Venezuela’s debts. Fearing that the President might accept a German proposal to act as individual mediator in this affair, he strode up and down the room exclaiming, “I have it all arranged, I have it all arranged. If only Teddy will keep his mouth shut until tomorrow noon!” That objective being happily accomplished, the Tribunal received another important case.
Arbitration treaties between individual countries slowly made progress. England and France agreed on one when they joined in the Entente of 1904 and Norway and Sweden concluded another when Norway, without the firing of a shot, became an independent state in 1905—an event hailed in itself as evidence that man was making progress. Two other international disputes of the time, the Dogger Bank affair between Russia and England and the affair of Venezuela’s debts, were referred to the Arbitration Tribunal, whose existence proved an invaluable means of saving face and satisfying public opinion. The Hague idea seemed to be putting on flesh.
In the summer of 1904 the Interparliamentary Union, meeting at the St. Louis Fair, adopted a resolution asking the President of the United States to convene a Second Peace Conference to take up the subjects postponed at The Hague and to carry arbitration forward toward the goal of a permanent court of international law. At the White House, Roosevelt accepted the resolution in person, as well as a visit from Baroness von Suttner, who had a private talk with him on “the subject so dear to my heart.” She found him friendly, sincere and “thoroughly impressed with the seriousness of the matter discussed.” According to her diary he said to her, “Universal peace is coming; it is certainly coming—step by step.” As the most unlikely remark of the epoch, it illustrates the capacity of true believers to hear what they want to hear.
Roosevelt felt the glamour of a world role and as convener of the Peace Conference considered himself no less fitted than the Czar. Accordingly on October 21, 1904, Hay instructed American envoys to propose that the nations reconvene at The Hague. That the Second Conference, like the First, was called while a war was in progress need not, he suggested, be considered an ill omen.
The nations accepted on condition that the Conference should not be convened until the Russo-Japanese War was over. No sooner was it over, however, than the Moroccan crisis erupted. Again President Roosevelt played a decisive role and was able to exercise his influence, this time privately, to persuade the Kaiser to agree to an international conference on Morocco. Held at Algeciras in January, 1906, with the United States as a participant, it proved to be a discomfiture for Germany, leaving her more bellicose than before. International tensions were not eased.
Three months before Algeciras, in October, 1905, the keel of H.M.S. Dreadnought, first of her class, was laid. With guns and armor plate manufactured by separate ordnance firms, she was ready for trials in an unprecedented burst of speed and secrecy, a year and a day later, achieving the greatest of military advantages—surprise. Designed by Fisher, the Dreadnought was larger, swifter, more heavily gunned than any battleship the world had ever seen. Displacing 18,000 tons, carrying ten 12-inch guns, and powered by the new steam-turbine engines, it made all existing fleets, including Germany’s, obsolete, besides demonstrating Britain’s confidence and capacity to rebuild her own fleet. Germany would now not only have to match the ship but dredge her harbors and widen the Kiel Canal.
Courtesy the Royal Archives, The Hague
British delegation to The Hague, 1899. Front row, from left to right: Ardagh; Fisher; Pauncefote; Sir Henry Howard, Minister to The Hague. Arthur Peel is first on the left in the back row. (Photo Credit 5.17)
PARIS EXPOSITION, 1900 Porte Monumentale
Palace of Electricity (Photo Credit 5.18)
Alfred Nobel (portrait by E. Osterman) (Photo Credit 5.20)
Bertha von Suttner (Photo Credit 5.21)
The Krupp works at Essen, 1912 (Photo Credit 5.22)
Courtesy Dr. Franz and
Richard Strauss, 1905 (Photo Credit 5.23)
Friedrich Nietzsche, Weimar, 1900 (drawing by Hans Olde) (Photo Credit 5.24)
A beer garden in Berlin (Photo Credit 5.25)
Nijinsky as the Faun (design by Léon Bakst) (Photo Credit 5.26)
Radio Times Hulton Picture Library
Arthur James Balfour, about 1895 (Photo Credit 5.27)
Coal strike, 1910 (Photo Credit 5.28)
Seamen’s strike, 1911 (Photo Credit 5.29)
The Mansell Collection, London
David Lloyd George, about 1908 (Photo Credit 5.30)
August Bebel (Photo Credit 5.31)
Keir Hardie (Photo Credit 5.32)
“Strike” (oil painting by Théophile Steinlen) (Photo Credit 5.33)
Jean Jaurès (Photo Credit 5.34)
In Fisher’s mind, as in Clemenceau’s, there was but one adversary. Half jokingly in 1904 he shocked King Edward by suggesting that the growing German Fleet should be “Copenhagened,” that is, wiped out by surprise bombardment, evoking the King’s startled reply, “My God, Fisher, you must be mad!” At Kiel in the same year, the Kaiser upset Bülow by publicly ascribing the genesis of his Navy to his childhood admiration of the British Fleet, which he had visited in company with “kind aunts and friendly admirals.” To give such sentimental reasons for a national development for which the people were being asked to pay millions, Bülow scolded, would not encourage the Reichstag to vote credits. “Ach, that damned Reichstag!” was the Kaiser’s reply.
Invitations to The Hague meanwhile had been reissued not by Roosevelt but by the Czar, who felt the necessity of regaining face. The upstart American republic had intervened enough. In September, 1905, as soon as his war was over, the hint was conveyed to Washington that he wished the right to call the Conference himself. Roosevelt amiably relinquished it. The Treaty of Portsmouth, which in a few months was to bring him the Nobel Peace Prize, had, he felt, been enough of a good thing. “I particularly do notwant to appear as a professional peace advocate … of the Godkin or Schurz variety,” he wrote to his new Secretary of State, Elihu Root.* His withdrawal did not please the peace advocates. Russia, as one of them said, was “not in the van of civilization.” This became strikingly apparent upon the outbreak of the Russian revolution of 1905. Forced by the crisis to grant a constitution and a parliament, the Czar repudiated the action as soon as his regime regained control, and dissolved the Duma to the horror of foreign liberal opinion.
The time seemed not on the whole propitious for a Peace Conference, but one encouraging development was a change of government in England which brought the Liberals, the traditional party of peace, to power. The new Prime Minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, known to all as C.-B., was a solid round-headed Scot of a wealthy mercantile family who had made himself unpopular in Court and in Society by denouncing British concentration camps in the Boer War as “methods of barbarism.” Nevertheless, King Edward, forced to become acquainted, discovered him to be indeed, as a mutual friend had promised, “so straight, so good-tempered, so clever and so full of humor” that it was impossible not to like him. C.-B. had the wit, tact and worldly wisdom that the King appreciated and the two gentlemen, who had a number of tastes in common, soon found each other congenial. They both went annually to Marienbad for the cure, they both loved France and shared a special friendship with the Marquis de Galliffet. Though a Liberal, C.-B. was, to the royal surprise, “quite sound on foreign politics.” He spoke the most fluent French of any Englishman, delighted to shop in Paris, to eat French food and read French literature, Anatole France being one of his favorites.
As an old-fashioned Liberal automatically disposed to disarmament,* C.-B. in his first public speech as Prime Minister somewhat rashly pledged his party to work for it at the coming Conference, although the Czar’s invitation, as opposed to 1898, had conspicuously omitted to mention the subject. Nevertheless, C.-B. boldly took it on, as well as a pledge to work for a permanent court of arbitration. “What nobler role,” he asked, “could this great country assume than to place itself at the head of a League of Peace?” This may have somewhat overstepped the view of a hard bloc within his own Cabinet composed of Asquith, Haldane and Grey, who as Liberal Imperialists were not altogether as peace-minded as himself. With unexpected toughness at seventy, C.-B. had withstood their attempt to elbow him into the House of Lords so as to obtain leadership of the Commons for Asquith. He detested them all and was enjoying his triumph.
Soon the relentless dilemma that attaches to office caught up with his Government. After years of excoriating the Tories as warmongers, the Liberals now suddenly found themselves responsible for the country’s safety. Although committed by election pledges to reduction of military and naval expenditure, once the General Election confirmed them in office they were not anxious to repudiate the work of modernizing the armed forces which the Tories had begun. C.-B. referred to the members of the Committee of Imperial Defence, Fisher, Lord Esher, and Sir George Clark, presumably in that order, as Damnable, Domineering and Dictatorial; but he had inherited them, not to mention the dreadnought program. Haldane, as Secretary for War, undertook to cut £3,000,000 from the Army estimates while at the same time, through sweeping reforms, achieving a more efficient fighting arm, as Fisher had done in the Navy. He created a General Staff and a reserve force called the Territorials. Officers’ Training Corps were formed in the public schools and universities and supplied with arms, ammunition and instructors by the government. Young men responded with enthusiasm. The calling bugle and screaming fife worked their magic, though chiefly upon the officer class. Recruitment of private soldiers for the Territorials dwindled after the first few years.
H.M.S. Dreadrought was commissioned in 1906, a strange triumph for the Liberals, and Fisher was demanding construction of three more dreadnoughts for 1907. He threatened, if refused, to resign and take three other members of the Board of Admiralty with him. The Liberal dilemma was painful but not beyond solution. By insisting that the Navy was defensive (which, considering the nature of blockade, was arguable), the Government managed to give Fisher his dreadnoughts and absolve the Liberal conscience at the same time.
Once more the nations found themselves committed to go to The Hague and intensely disliking the prospect. All through 1906 and half of 1907 they put off the uncomfortable day while pursuing desultory discussions of agenda. The Russian program, circulated in April, 1906, proposed arbitration and laws of war as subjects for discussion while continuing to ignore disarmament. Emerging from foreign defeats and domestic revolution, Russia was concerned with replenishing, not reducing, armaments and had called the Conference only to retrieve the initiative from the United States. As far as Izvolsky, the current Russian Foreign Minister, was concerned, disarmament was “a craze of Jews, Socialists and hysterical women.” Since the advent of the Liberals in England, however, the question of disarmament could not be escaped. To put it on the agenda after the burial of 1899 was like propping up a dead man; not to put it on was to admit hopelessness and invite public condemnation. At a meeting of the Interparliamentary Union in London in April, 1906, C.-B. urged the delegates to insist at home “in the name of humanity” on their governments going to The Hague with serious intent to decrease military and naval budgets. The meeting was hardly a happy one, for on opening day, as delegates crowded around to congratulate the proud members of the youngest parliament, word came that the Czar had dissolved the Duma. C.-B., who was to give the address of welcome, was so shocked that he challenged the Imperial decision with the words, “Under one form or another the Duma will revive. In all sincerity, we can say, ‘The Duma is dead; long live the Duma!’ ” His outspokenness earned an official Russian protest.
As to disarmament the Kaiser let it be known that if it was brought up for discussion in any form, his delegates would leave the Conference which in any case he “devoutly hoped would not take place.” He was already being blamed at home by the militant Pan-Germans and Crown Prince’s party for yielding at Algeciras instead of fighting, and German diplomats hinted to other ambassadors that he might even be deposed if Germany were forced to agree to any form of arms limitation arising from the Conference. During one of the periodic visits of King Edward required by royal relations, with usually disastrous results, uncle and nephew discussed the forthcoming Conference while remaining for once reasonably amiable, perhaps because on this subject they were not far apart. The King “entirely disapproved” of the Conference, the Kaiser wrote to Roosevelt, “and himself took the initiative of telling me that he considered it a ‘humbug.’ ” According to his report, King Edward said it was not only useless, since in case of need nobody would feel bound by its decisions, but even dangerous as likely to produce more friction than harmony.
To Roosevelt it was apparent that modern Germany, “alert, aggressive, military and industrial,… despises the Hague Conference and the whole Hague idea.” His anxiety at the time was lest the British Liberal Government would “go to any maudlin extreme at the Hague Conference.” He told the new British military attaché, Count Gleichen, a cousin of the King, that he hoped Haldane and Grey would not let themselves be “carried away by sentimental ideas.” He was afraid they might be “swayed by their party in that direction … but don’t let them do it.” He talked fully to Gleichen of his current idea for a limitation on the size of battleships rather than on naval budgets. Unaware that his proposed top limit of 15,000 tons was already outdated by the monstrous hulk then lying in Portsmouth dockyard, Roosevelt explained that he wanted to see the British Navy remain in the same relative position vis-à-vis the navies of Europe and Japan as at present. Conveying the message to the King, Gleichen added that he had found lunch at Roosevelt’s home in Oyster Bay “extremely meagre,” and with only two Negro servants in attendance and no one to meet him at the station, arrangements rather primitive altogether.
Once the Dreadnought was commissioned, the United States Navy could not lag behind and two of the new class were authorized by Congress at Roosevelt’s request in January, 1907. The Navy, he wrote to President Eliot, was an “infinitely more potent factor for peace than all the peace societies” and the Panama Canal far more important than The Hague. With regard to the Conference he added, “My chief trouble will come from the fantastic visionaries who are crazy to do the impossible.”
One of these was Andrew Carnegie, whose company, when he sold it in 1900 to Morgan for $250,000,000 in bonds, was producing one-fourth of all the steel in the United States and as much as all of England. Less shy than Nobel, Carnegie was now devoting his profits, while he was still alive, to the welfare of humanity. Next to providing libraries which presumably might make men wiser, he hoped also to make them more pacific, and had agreed on the urging of Andrew White to donate a building for the Arbitration Tribunal at The Hague.
He was now busily engaged between the White House and Whitehall in an effort to promote the cause of the Conference, but Roosevelt had lost interest after the British refused to consider his proposal of a limit on the size of battleships. However, Roosevelt managed to avoid commitments by telling highly placed correspondents what they wanted to hear. He was in correspondence with the sovereigns of both Germany and England, whom he addressed easily as “My Dear Emperor William” and “My Dear King Edward.”
By now scarcely any public official except C.-B. and Secretary Root wanted disarmament on the agenda. Root thought it should be discussed even if nothing were accomplished, because, he said, results are never achieved without a number of failures: “failures are necessary steps toward success.” C.-B. too felt the world must keep on trying. Though a childless man whose wife, his closest companion, had just died and who himself was within a year of his death, he continued his own efforts. In March, 1907, he took the unusual course for a Prime Minister of publishing an article on a current question of policy. Under the title “The Hague Conference and the Limitation of Armaments,” it appeared in the first issue of a new liberal weekly, the Nation (of London). Although armaments and engines of war had increased since the First Conference, he wrote, so had the peace movement, which was now “incomparably stronger and more constant.” He thought disarmament should be given a chance to make the same progress as arbitration, which now had acquired a “moral authority undreamt of in 1898.” Britain, he pointed out, had already reduced military and naval expenditures (which was true if the program for the new dreadnoughts was left out of account) and would be willing to go further if other nations would do likewise. Admittedly this would not affect Britain’s naval supremacy, since it would freeze the status quo, but the Prime Minister insisted on the thesis that the British Navy was not a challenge to any state or group of states. The argument was narrow steering between the rocks of conscience and the shoals of political reality and it pleased nobody. The Germans took it as proof of a British plot in concert with France and Russia to force the issue at The Hague before Germany could make good H.M.S. Dreadnought’s lead. Bülow announced publicly in the Reichstag that Germany would refuse to discuss disarmament at the Conference. King Edward was equally irritated by the Prime Minister’s espousal of disarmament, as bad as his support of women’s suffrage. “I suppose he will support the Channel Tunnel Bill next week!” he said in disgust, but from that particular horror C.-B. refrained.
As Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey professed himself ready at all times to talk budgetary limitation at The Hague. Haldane talked earnestly to the American diplomat, Henry White, of the need for reducing armaments and had gone to Germany in 1906 to feel out possible ground for an agreement. But the hard fact behind the talk was that neither the British Government nor any other had any intention of limiting its freedom to arm as it pleased. The only person to mention the role of the munitions manufacturers was the King of Italy, who suggested that disarmament would cause “an outburst of opposition” among them and he was sure the Kaiser would never consent to “clipping the wings of Krupp.” When, on behalf of Russia, Professor de Martens toured the capitals to gather opinions as Muraviev, now dead, had done before, the American Ambassador in Berlin summarized the matter flatly: “De Martens does not believe and nobody believes … there is the slightest likelihood of any steps toward practical reduction of armaments being taken at the next Hague Conference.”
These were the private exchanges of diplomats, but peace could not be so rudely handled before the public, at least not in England and the United States. It was not a question of the great mute unknown passive mass. Who knew what opinion lay there? Mass opinion when formed would blow with the winds of circumstance and more likely with the loud circumstance of war than with peace. The vocal opinion, however, of the thinking public—especially of the peace movement—would be outraged by exclusion of disarmament from the Hague agenda. Peace Congresses meeting annually—at Glasgow in 1901, Monaco in 1902, Rouen and Le Havre in 1903, Boston in 1904, Lucerne in 1905, Milan in 1906—passed resolutions demanding that governments make some serious effort to reach a truce on armaments. Baroness von Suttner, who had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905, and her colleagues in the peace societies and at the annual Lake Mohonk conferences in America, agitated as energetically as ever. In 1907 Jane Addams published a book, Newer Ideals of Peace, incurring Roosevelt’s displeasure but adding a respected voice to the chorus.
Carnegie, seizing on C.-B.’s idea of a League of Peace or League of Nations, as he variously called it, decided the Kaiser was the man to establish it because “I think he is the man responsible for war on earth.” Having several times been invited to visit by the Kaiser, who liked millionaires, he now set forth to convince him of his duty. By letter in advance he explained how the Kaiser could earn in history the title of the “Peacemaker” and added in a covering letter to the American Ambassador, “He and our President could make a team if they were only hitched up together in the cause of Peace.” At Kiel, on his arrival in June, 1907, he dined twice with the Kaiser and was invited to a third audience with results eerily echoing the interviews of Stead with the Czar and Baroness von Suttner with Roosevelt. Carnegie found his monarch “a wonderful man, so bright, humorous, and with a sweet smile. I think he can be trusted and declares himself for peace.… Very engaging—very; can’t help liking him.” Once out of reach of the sweet smile, Carnegie remembered his mission and wrote back urging a great gesture by the Kaiser at The Hague to convince the world that he was in reality the “apostle of peace.”
Words and gestures of this kind were a habitual weakness of the peace advocates, with effect on the public, if any, that could only be deceptive. At the same time, political leaders told the public only what sounded virtuous and benign, while reserving the hard realities for each other. Only one man tried to instruct the public to take an honest look at war. Mahan, now an Admiral, continued to publish articles on the necessity of the free exercise of fighting strength and especially, in anticipation of the Conference, on the danger of a renewed demand for immunity of private property at sea. The military function seemed to him to need protection from the uncomprehending view of the layman. “The prepossession of the public mind in most countries,” he wrote worriedly to Roosevelt after a tour abroad, was such that the question of war was “in danger of being misjudged and ‘rushed.’ ”
It was this prepossession that required both the British and American governments to support inclusion of disarmament on the agenda. Neither Grey nor Roosevelt believed discussion would lead to any practical result and in talks with foreign ambassadors both explained that they were obliged to insist on it for “the sake of public opinion.” Germany, Austria and Russia were determined to exclude it for fear that discussion might somehow trap them into an unwanted position. After months of intricate diplomatic negotiation, the Conference was finally announced without disarmament on the agenda and with so many reservations included in the various acceptances that it seemed probable the Conference might break up as soon as it met. Great Britain, the United States and Spain reserved the right to bring disarmament up for discussion; Germany, Austria and Russia reserved the right to abstain or withdraw if it were mentioned, and other nations reserved a variety of rights in between.
So burdened, the nations assembled on June 15, 1907. The first decade of the new century, now three quarters old, was already marked by three characteristics: a bursting economy, a burst of creative vigor in the arts, and the sound of steady “drumming like a noise in dreams.” For all who did not hear it there were many who did, not all with dread. In the German Navy it was the custom of officers to drink to “The Day.” At a spa near Bayreuth a group of German students and young naval officers made friends with a visiting Englishman and “in the friendliest and most amiable fashion discussed with me the coming struggle between our two countries.” They argued that every empire had its day. England’s decline must come as had that of Spain, Holland and France. Who should fill the throne but the strong, wise, noble and gifted nation whose development had been the outstanding factor of the Nineteenth Century and who now stood “poised for heroic enterprise.” Germany seemed not the only one so poised. The new aggressive powers exhibited by Japan and the United States convinced Europe that these nations were approaching a clash. Following the furor caused in Japan by the California Exclusion Act, both these nations believed it themselves. “The tendency is toward war,” wrote Secretary Root, “not now but in a few years’ time.”
The prospect was viewed by many of the ruling class more matter-of-factly than tragically. Lord Lansdowne, opposing the Old Age Pensions Bill in the House of Lords, said it would cost as much as a great war and the expense of the South African War was a better investment. “A war, terrible as are its consequences, has at any rate the effect of raising the moral fibre of the country” whereas the measure under debate would weaken it. And if the prospect of war appalled the spokesmen of the working class, violence as such did not. Georges Sorel in his Reflections on Violence in 1908 claimed that proletarian violence exercised in the interest of class war was a “fine heroic thing,” a civilizing agent that could save the world from barbarism.
The Second Conference was larger in size, longer in duration and more voluminous in results than the First, but otherwise not very different. It lasted through October—for four months instead of two—and produced thirteen conventions, as compared to the previous three. Because the United States had insisted on the presence of the Latin-American states, much to the distaste of the European powers, 44 nations and 256 delegates were present as compared to 26 and 108 at the First Conference. The larger number made it necessary to meet in the Ridderzaal, seat of the Netherlands Parliament in the center of The Hague, rather than in the Huis ten Bosch in its lovely park. Many of the delegates were the same as before; many of the notable ones of 1899 were missing. Bourgeois of France and Beernaert of Belgium again headed their respective delegations, but Münster, Pauncefote and De Staal were dead; Andrew White had not returned; Mahan and Fisher were absent in body if not in spirit. The new president was again a Russian, M. Nelidov, an elderly diplomat like his predecessor whose voice and manner revealed his lack of sympathy with the Conference and who, being in ill health most of the time, left command of the Russian delegation to the pompous Professor de Martens who himself suffered from gout and was often confined to his room. The Russian delegation seemed divided among itself with its members quartered in separate hotels.
Baron d’Estournelles, who was to share the Nobel Peace Prize with Beernaert two years later, was again present for France, and Professor Zorn, looking yellow and emaciated, from Germany. Among the newcomers were Count Tornielli, representing Italy, whose wife had been seated next to President Loubet on the terrible day at Auteuil, and the notorious Marquis de Soveral, who represented Portugal. An intimate friend of King Edward, he was known as the “Blue Monkey” in London Society where it was said, “he made love to all the most beautiful women and all the nicest men were his friends.” A whole block of newcomers was provided by the “impeccable dandies” of Latin America.
Pauncefote’s firm presence was missed. When he died in 1902 Roosevelt sent his body home to England in a cruiser, saying, “I did not do it because he was Ambassador but because he was a damned good fellow.” His place was taken, if not filled, by a judge, Sir Edward Fry, a tiny, unworldly Quaker of eighty-two, yet not so unworldly as to want to yield control of the British delegation to his associate, Sir Ernest Satow, an experienced diplomat, formerly minister to Pekin, who spoke French fluently which Fry did not.
Dominating the Conference were the chief delegates of the United States and Germany: Mr. Joseph Hodges Choate, who at seventy-five with white chin whiskers seemed to personify the Nineteenth Century, and Baron Marschall von Bieberstein, suave and up to date, who though only ten years younger was clearly a man of the new age. Choate was genial and shrewd, famous as a raconteur, Ambassador to England from 1899 to 1905 and a lawyer by profession whose brilliant defence of the rights of property before the Supreme Court in 1895 held off the income tax for another eighteen years. He owned a summer home at Stockbridge designed by Stanford White. His white hair gleaming beneath a glossy silk hat became a landmark of the Conference.
Baron Marschall, Ambassador to Constantinople, a huge handsome man with two alt-Heidelberg dueling scars on his cheek, wore “a mask of haughty intelligence that seemed to despise the ensemble of human folly.” He played chess and the piano, cultivated roses, and smoked tiny cigarettes endlessly, occasionally flicking the fallen ash from the silk lapel of his coat with a gesture that seemed to say he treated human issues with no more compunction. He despised public opinion which he said was whatever the newspapers chose to make it. A government that could not control the press was not worth its salt. The best way to control a newspaper, he advised, was by “banging the door in its face.” Equally firm were his opinions on his fellow delegates: De Martens was a “charlatan … with an explosive lack of tact”; Barbarosa of Brazil was the “most boring”; Fry was “a good old man completely lacking in experience of modern life”; Tornielli was “gentle and pacific”; Tsudzuki of Japan was a “superior” person who had studied in Germany, spoke German and “felt the utmost veneration for His Majesty”; the Russian military delegate, Colonel Michelson, who made a speech saying that war was terrible and everything should be done by mediation to prevent it, was guilty of talk which might have been understandable coming from Baroness von Suttner but coming from a colonel was a “scandal”; Choate was “the most striking personality” among the delegates with “extraordinary intelligence, profound legal knowledge and great political ability.”
Baron Marschall himself shook the Conference when in the course of discussion on a proposal to restrict mine-laying he warned against the folly of making laws for the conduct of war which might be rendered useless by “the law of facts.” The implications to be drawn from this excited wide press comment, including a letter to The Times from the Poet Laureate. Too indignant for poetry, Alfred Austin wrote that Marschall’s words were a plain warning of future German aggression of which all her neighbors—Holland, Belgium, France and Austria—should take note. Britain “duly forewarned” should adopt military conscription and the Laureate closed with a line borrowed from his predecessor, Lord Tennyson: “Form! Form! Riflemen, Form!”
As before, peace advocates converged from all quarters upon The Hague, including Bertha von Suttner and Stead, who had once again appointed himself independent rapporteur. Again he published a chronicle of the proceedings, personalities, disputes and private deals, this time in the form of a four-page daily newspaper, the Courrier de la Conférence. Bloch was dead but Andrew Carnegie took his place and laid the cornerstone for the new Peace Palace, to which he had donated $1,250,000. It was agreed that all member nations should contribute materials representing their finest products for the building that was to express “universal good will and hope.” As before, Socialists, and this time Anarchists and Zionists as well, held their international Congresses in Amsterdam during the Conference to capture some of the world limelight for their causes. The Dutch pastor and pacifist Domela Nieuwenhuis, who managed to combine Anarchism with religion and remain sincere, denounced Carnegie impartially with the delegates as a merchant of death who built a Temple of Peace, while accepting orders for munitions “even from the Japanese,” an accusation accurate in spirit if not in time. “Let all workers regardless of nationality strike on the declaration of war and there will be no war!” Nieuwenhuis cried out.
The work of the Conference was organized as before in Commissions—on Arbitration, Rules of War on Land, Rules of War at Sea—with an additional Fourth Commission—on Maritime Law. Bourgeois and Beernaert were chairmen as before of the First and Second Commissions, Tornielli of the Third and De Martens of the Fourth. At the opening session Nelidov’s address of welcome aroused no enthusiasm; the first days were gloomy, arrangements and assignments confused and acoustics in plenary session so poor that on one occasion delegates disputed energetically whether the last speaker had addressed them in English or French.
Carrying out their insistence that disarmament must be discussed if only to prove to the public its impracticability and their own honest intentions, the British brought the question to the floor. None of the nations walked out, because Sir Edward Grey’s explanations in advance, however foggy, had conveyed a sufficiently clear impression that the matter would not be uncomfortably pursued; nor was it. Sir Edward Fry made a grave and moving presentation of the case, describing the appalling increase in engines of death and moved a resolution calling for “further serious study” in the same phrase of postponement as had been used in 1899. Nelidov agreed that if arms limitation was not ripe in 1899 it was not more so in 1907, and the delegates adopted Fry’s resolution without a vote. The matter was disposed of in a total of twenty-five minutes. Stead raged at the “miserable and scandalous debacle” and even Secretary Root concluded that Grey’s support had been merely a gesture to “satisfy English public opinion.”
Although the world grew bored after Fry’s “funeral oration” as Marschall called it, and even the journalists lost interest, the Conference settled down to serious work on the laws and techniques of war. When busied in drafting and disputing the problems of their trade—the rights and duties of neutrals, the recovery of international debts by force, the rules for opening hostilities—all matters which took war for granted as a fact of human life, the delegates became absorbed. Indeed, they worked harder than at the First Conference, as if war was not only a fact of life but an imminent fact. Committee meetings were held twice a day, lengthy documents had to be read, expert opinions examined, new drafts prepared, and endless confidential talks held to work out compromises. “Never since my examination for the bar have I worked so hard as in the last six weeks,” Marschall reported to Bülow.
The launching of projectiles or explosives from balloons was reconsidered, and again avoiding any extremes of self-denial, the delegates renewed the prohibition for another limited term of five years. Neutral territory, a matter on which the Belgians were particularly sensitive, was agreed to be inviolable and a convention of twenty-five articles was worked out establishing rules of procedures in case it were violated. As a result of Japan’s treacherous opening of hostilities against Russia by surprise attack in 1904, new and interesting discussions were held on this subject. They culminated in a convention whose signatories agreed not to open hostilities without previous unequivocal warning in the form of a declaration of war or ultimatum accompanied by a conditional declaration of war. Another convention of fifty-six articles was adopted redefining the laws and customs of land warfare. As a result of the Venezuela affair in 1902 a convention against the use of force to collect international debts except if the debtor had refused arbitration was agreed on. This represented one definite advance in international law.
Naval warfare was the subject of the fiercest struggle, with the right of capture of seaborne commerce as the central issue. As the basic weapon of blockade, Britain was determined to preserve the right of capture free of any restrictions. Germany was equally determined to restrict it by international prize court and other interferences. The use of submarines and underwater contact mines as weapons against blockade Germany was determined to defend and Britain to restrict. On the immunity of private property, Grey, at least, had learned Mahan’s lesson if the American delegation had not. He instructed his delegates that Britain could not assent to a principle which “if carried to its logical conclusion would entail the abolition of commercial blockade.” He added a reason, in histortured way, which would certainly not have occurred to Mahan. Britain could not agree to anything, he wrote, which might “so limit the prospective liability of war as to remove some of the considerations which now restrain the public from contemplating it.” Translated into simpler language, this meant that Britain could not agree to anything which might, by limiting the damages of war, cause people to enter on it more lightly. With the British Liberals it was obligatory to find a moral reason to fortify a natural policy of self-interest, a practice no one carried to higher perfection or more obscure expression than Sir Edward Grey.
Eight conventions on naval warfare were ultimately reached establishing rules, rights and restrictions for every possible means of injuring the enemy. It took thirteen articles to prohibit the use of underwater contact mines unless harmless one hour after being laid; another thirteen articles to regulate naval bombardment of shore establishments; fifty-seven articles to govern an international prize court. Other conventions dealt with the right of capture, the nature of contraband, the rights and duties of neutrals at sea but so unsatisfactorily that all these questions were resumed at a conference of naval powers in London in the following year.
On arbitration, the motive power, now that Pauncefote was gone, was chiefly American, with Secretary Root, a lawyer by profession, supplying the energy behind Choate. Root’s object was to transform the tribunal established in 1899 from an optional court for litigants who agreed to arbitration into a Permanent Court of International Justice with permanent judges deciding issues of international law by “judicial methods under a sense of judicial responsibility.” President Roosevelt supported the aim without strong conviction, confessing to Root midway through the Conference that “I have not followed things at The Hague.” To his friend Speck von Sternberg, the German Ambassador, he expressed himself more forcibly as, for some reason, he habitually did to Germans. He could not take a proper interest in the Hague proceedings, he told Speck, because he was so “utterly disgusted” with the nonsense chattered by professional peace advocates.
The American proposal for a Permanent Court ran into strong opposition, one obstacle being Brazil’s insistence that all forty-four nations be represented on it. The idea of having decisions made for them “by decayed Oriental states like Turkey or Persia … or a half-breed lawyer from Central or South America,” in the words of one commentator, disgusted the major European powers. The crux, however, was once more compulsory arbitration. On this, reported Marschall to Berlin, would depend the final answer, “Was it a Peace Conference or a War Conference that took place in 1907?” Since his own country utterly rejected the compulsory principle, presumably he faced the answer. He did, not, however, fall into the error made by his predecessors of strenuous isolation. Instead, as Choate said, he was devoted to the principle of arbitration while opposing every practical application of it. The Conference attempted to work out a list of innocuous subjects for compulsory submission on which everyone could agree, but it failed of adoption when eight nations voted against it. In the end a Convention on the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes was adopted containing ninety-six articles of which the compulsory principle was not one. Consequently, no Court of Justice could be established.
One last point of contention remained: a Third Conference. Believers in the Hague idea wished to see the principle of the interdependence of nations established in the form of a permanent organization and periodic meetings. The day of nations as separate sovereign units was past and before breaking up they wanted a commitment to meet again. Non-believers, chiefly the major European powers, wanted no further limitation of their freedom of action and no more invasions of sovereignty by insistence on compulsory peaceful settlement. They resisted commitment to a Third Conference, more particularly because pressure for it came from the Americans. Secretary Root, faithful to his precept that successive failures were necessary to success, and believing that each of the Conferences had accomplished something toward making possible the next, had instructed Choate to obtain a resolution for a Third Conference. By committing the nations now, he intended also to wrest initiative and control from Russia. Choate fought hard against the reluctance of the other delegates which remained unbending until he threatened Nelidov that if no agreement were reached he would move the resolution publicly in plenary session. Opposition gave way. The delegates adopted a resolution recommending that the next Conference be held “within a period analogous to that which had elapsed since the preceding Conference,” namely, eight years.
To have achieved this much, Root wrote to Roosevelt, was at least progress “toward making the practice of nations conform to their professed desire for peace.” The desire was real enough. Twice it had brought the nation to The Hague. Twice man’s inherent desire to police himself had wrestled against opposite tendencies. The goal of a new international order in which nations would be willing to give up their freedom to fight in exchange for the security of law was still ahead. The advance toward it taken at The Hague, as Choate said later, was necessarily “gradual, tentative and delicate.”
He hoped for further progress at the next Conference in 1915.
* Hay had died in July, 1905.
* Limitation of armaments rather than disarmament was the question at issue, but the single word, being less awkward, was generally used at the time and the usage has been followed here.