(Editor’s Note: See page 338 ‘‘Secretary’s Notes.”)
WE WERE once assured that the World War was to be the last war, the war to end war. In the years since the Armistice we have witnessed an unprecedented flood of opinion on the causes of war and a determined effort to eradicate them. Everyone has a formula for preventing, or at least for minimizing, the possibility of war. The prevention of another world conflict, judging by the publicity it has received, is the outstanding problem of the century. We of the military service have a very special interest in that problem since in a way we are devoting our lives to its solution.
The most serious efforts have been made along three main lines. There was, first, the older idea of the balance of power. A perfect balance of power would undoubtedly prevent a great many wars. If each nation was, and continued to be, as capable of offensive and defensive action as every other nation, each would soon find it worse than useless to provoke a war single-handed. Superiority could only be attained by alliances. It is even possible to imagine perfectly balanced alliances as a preventive of war. In reality there are no such perfect balances, and the historical idea has been abandoned, at least in theory, as a means for preserving the peace. It may have a minor application in treaties for the mutual limitation of armaments.
Most important before the World War were The Hague Conferences, which adopted among others a convention for the pacific settlement of international disputes and for the establishment of a permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. That they were impotent to prevent war was in part due to the impossibility of conditions at the outset. The conventions merely provided a means for preserving peace should all the great nations really desire peace. In the same general class were the so-called Bryan Peace Treaties, the signatories to which agreed to delay war for a year of investigation and report by a permanent tribunal. If each sovereign state made such a treaty with every other, there would be nearly 4,000 arbitration treaties alone.
The next step was toward a league of nations. As first proposed during the World War, this was to be a league to enforce peace by the application of military force and economic pressure. Included in this general idea was the “outlawry” of war. After the formation of the League of Nations, however, circumstances forced the evolution of the idea toward a free association of nations pledged to peace, but not pledged to employ military force against offenders. It is considered necessary by the proponents of this plan to re-educate and exhort public opinion away from nationalism and toward internationalism; to codify international law and create a body of international judges; to bring about general disarmament; and, as a throw-back to the idea of enforcing peace, to negotiate economic pacts and to create machinery for applying economic pressure.
The present League of Nations as first constituted appeared to be a league to enforce peace. Article X of the Covenant pledged members to defend each other against aggression. Article XVI pledged member nations to apply the economic boycott against any other nation which defied the covenants, and it assigned to the Council of the League the duty of recommending “to the several governments concerned what effective military, naval, or air force the members of the League shall severally contribute to the armed forces to be used to protect the covenants of the League.”
In the years since its creation the League of Nations has altered the construction of those articles specifying the use of force. Article XVI has been amended, and the original intent of both articles is said to have been reduced to something near “innocuous desuetude.” Therefore there appears to be some doubt as to the actual powers of the League. On the one hand they are described as being limited to the power “to confer and advise, to create commissions, to exercise inquisitive, conciliative, and arbitral functions, and to help elect judges of the Permanent Court,” and as depending for their efficacy on public opinion, arbitration, and the “will to peace.” On the other hand the League has been condemned as an agency for making every local war worldwide. One of the principal reasons for the refusal of the United States to join it was the fear of entangling alliances, with the possibility of being forced into a war in which we had no vital interests. In any case the League cannot be considered as a wholly effective preventive of war, for the simple reason that wars have occurred since its inception. The League’s arbitral and conciliative efforts may have been beneficial in many instances, but the problem still remains.
Thus, none of the methods proposed or in use have proved sufficiently promising to allay the fears of the world, and the discussion waxes, as highly imaginative writers describe the “horrors” of the next war. The apparent impotence of the present League has caused the revival of the idea of a league to enforce peace. We have heard a great deal concerning the “outlawry” of war, but the idea has not gone beyond a vague phraseology. The latest and most concrete proposal, so far as I am aware, comes from Dr. William McDougall, the psychologist. He urges that the League of Nations revert to its original status as a league to enforce peace, but that its weapon be limited to an international air force. I think it worth while to examine this suggestion for a moment. It is probably typical of a great body of opinion which proposes to cure war by the threat of international retribution.
In his preliminary discussion Dr. McDougall examines the causes of war, and concludes that the “central and most immediate cause of war, in which all other causes converge and through which their power to precipitate war is greatly augmented, is the fear of aggression. Each nation fears that it may be suddenly attacked and overwhelmed by some other nation or combination of nations; and it is this fear, far more than any other factor, which prompts them to maintain great armed forces.”1
It is true that fear of aggression leads nations to maintain great armed forces, but that it is the cause of war, can be held only if it is argued that the maintenance of great armed forces is the real cause of war. This Dr. McDougall denies earlier in the discussion, assigning it only a very minor role. There are not many people who will agree that fear of aggression is the cause of war. It is a real or fancied aggression itself which furnishes the immediate excuse for war, not the fear of aggression. The immediate cause of a war may be an act of pure aggression, but it is usually impossible to determine this at the time, and war guilt is frequently never definitely determinable. As evidence of this witness the attack on the Treaty of Versailles by the “Revisionists.” Moreover the term aggression is far too vague to be serviceable. Wars usually result from the clash of deep seated and conflicting national aspirations, in which it would be impossible for an impartial observer, assuming that one could be found, to decide who was the aggressor.
1Janus—The Conquest of War—A Psychological Inquiry, William McDougall.
It does not appear to me that in all the vast literature of war there is an adequate description of its causes. Wars are strictly human enterprises, and they are entered into by the masses of the populations engaged with an enthusiasm which frequently amounts to exaltation. To understand that enthusiasm it is necessary to get at the fundamental psychology of the race. It appears to me that wars are the result of the same human motives which are the causes of all other human institutions. Its roots go as deeply as those of the great truths of religion and political organization and the aspirations of men for better lives. The answer is psychological. Psychology is possibly too controversial at this moment to be able to give a full description of the motives behind every act of man, but it is pointing the way. It can be asserted as a generality that wars are the result of men’s ego ideals, of their desire for glorified lives.
Men desire good and abhor evil; not good and evil in the abstract, but particular and personal good and evil things. Ideas of what is good differ among individuals, but there are certain ideas which are common to most of the individuals of a group as homogeneous as a nation. A man’s idea of good may embrace only the most sensual of pleasures, or it may ascend through a hierarchy of values to the pursuit of a more or less imaginary ultimate truth and beauty. Each individual sets up some standard of good as an object of attainment. Elements of it may vary from day to day, or month to month, or may persist through a lifetime. It may be false, vicious, perverted, according to the accepted standards, or it may be the noblest of concepts. The behaviorist would say that it was an idea acquired by contact with the environment, and that it could be changed by proper training. Probably so. A complete account would describe its origin in the rewards and punishments visited on the individual by society for social and anti-social acts; in the ideas instilled in the child’s mind by parents or others vitally interested in his welfare; and in what the child acquires by contact with people or things which he admires. Such as it is, it is the lever which moves him; it is the power behind the human psyche; it is the stimulus which brings forth its response in adult behavior.
Men are moved little if at all by abstract good and evil. Man acts as a self, and therefore his goods and evils must be related to himself. There is one good to which all men aspire, without any exception whatsoever, and that is self-exaltation. Everyone desires those things which he believes will increase his force, his strength, his worth as a man—in a word, which will glorify his self-hood. We all want to be exalted beings of some kind or another. Most of men’s ideas of good center around this desire. Its constituents are desire for liberty of action, for security, for variety of experience, for recognition and response, for personal honor, rank, and attainment, for knowledge and power over the environment, and among the higher types of men, for creative activity connected with the individual’s idea of the ultimate nature or purpose of the universe. In imagination, men identify themselves with those things or groups or institutions which contribute to the satisfaction of that desire. All their ideas of good then come to be integrated into an ego ideal, or as Dr. Everett Dean Martin called it, a personality picture founded partly on fact, partly on wish-fulfillment. The adult ego ideal is a picture of the self as one would like to have it; it is an imaginary identification of the self with a certain ideational pattern of good. A man follows that integrated picture like a bright star. It is the instrument whereby he orients himself in a chaotic world. It is the means whereby he is able to choose among the possibilities open to him. He refers his dilemmas to his personality picture, and chooses what he believes the individual he has created in the picture would choose. If some temporary impulse crashes through and causes him to depart from his ideal, he feels a sense of sin and shame. It strengthens, enriches, glorifies his life, and those things with which he has identified himself. It is what he believes himself to be and what life means to him. He will struggle to attain it, will fight for it if necessary, and will often give up his life rather than witness its degradation.
A nation is not a super-ego, a spiritual entity over and above its inhabitants, with aspirations and hopes distinct and superior to theirs. It is simply an aggregation of people under a common political organization. Its good is their good; its behavior their behavior; its motives are only the motives of those individuals among them who can gain the ascendency. The ideal of democratic government is the ideal of the individual, that is, the good of the people governed. To that ideal the people give their allegiance. In imagination, however, they ascribe to government an individuality of its own. It becomes in the minds of its citizens a superior collective ego with which they identify themselves. A man’s thoughts of himself and of his country vary only in degree; they are one and the same; as a member of a great nation he himself takes on greatness. If it has a king, an exalted one of the earth, the humblest subject exalts himself in honoring him. The king, the leaders, the nation as a whole, become integrated into his ego ideal, and remain a part of it as long as he is convinced that they contribute to its attainment. Even should he become hostile to certain leaders, or opposed to certain acts of government, he usually recognizes the temporary nature of his hostility, and does not dissociate himself entirely from the imagined permanent character of the nation. In his mind he and it are still one.
In time a nation takes on a unique character. As an imaginary collective ego superior to the individual, it comes to have in the minds of its citizens an ego ideal of its own, which contributes to the attainment of their individual ideals. It is drawn for the masses of the citizens by the leaders, who must inevitably base the nation’s ideals on what is common to the individual ideals. Acts of government (that is, of the nation’s leaders) are then approved if they appear to accord with the national ideals. Such acts are concerned with the liberty, security, and prosperity of the citizens, and with the glorification of the national character. When the national ideals are stated in concrete form with reference to a particular situation, they become national policies. It is the statesman’s part to shape national policies to accord with the national ideals. They must strengthen, enrich, and glorify the national life. Just as the individual strives to attain his own ideas of good in his private life, so does he expect the statesman to strive to attain the national ideals of good. Should they become persuaded that these are threatened in a vital way, the citizens will fight for them. They will risk their material prosperity and their very lives in support of their ideals, whether these be good or bad according to others’ standards, because in these ideals of good lies the whole meaning of life for them.
Plato had something of this in mind many centuries ago. Socrates and his friends were discussing a state in process of creation. No one, he said, is completely self- sufficing. On the contrary we all have many wants, and the state arises out of the need for mutual assistance. The first and greatest necessity is food, then lodging, and the third clothing, and the like. The citizens exchange with one another under the idea that the exchange will be for their good. Each will bring the results of his labors into the common stock.
“Now,” asked Socrates, “what will be their way of life? Will they not produce corn and wine and clothes and shoes, and build houses for themselves? They will work in the summer stripped and barefoot, but in winter substantially clothed and shod. They will feed on barley-meal and flour of wheat, served on mats of reeds or on clean leaves, themselves reclining the while on beds strewn with yew or myrtle. For a relish we will give them salt and olives and cheese, and boiled roots and herbs. They will eat and drink in moderation, and thus live in peace and health to a good old age, bequeathing a similar life to their children after them.”2
2Quotations abridged from Jowett's translation of Plato’s Republic.
“Yes, Socrates,” Glaucon interposed, “and if you were providing for a city of pigs, how else would you feed the beasts?”
“Now,” said Socrates, “I understand: the question which you would have me consider is, not only how a state, but how a luxurious state is created. In my opinion the true and healthy constitution of the state is the one which I have described. But if you wish also to see a state at fever heat, I have no objection. For I suspect that many will not be satisfied with the simpler way of living.”
Continuing the conversation, Socrates and his friends agreed that they would now have to fill their city with a multitude of callings not required by the primitive necessities; with poets, players, dancers, musicians, tutors, servants, confectioners, cooks, and makers of fine dresses, and that they would have to procure gold and ivory and all sorts of materials. To do this they would have to enlarge their borders, for the country which was enough to support the original inhabitants would then be too small.
“Then,” said Socrates, “a slice of our neighbor’s land will be wanted by us, and they will want a slice of ours, if, like ourselves, they exceed the limit of necessity, and give themselves up to the unlimited accumulation of wealth. And so we shall go to war, Glaucon. Shall we not?”
“Most certainly,” Glaucon replied.
“Then,” said Socrates, “without determining as yet whether war does good or harm, thus much we may affirm, that now we have discovered war to be derived from causes which are also the causes of almost all the evils in states, private as well as public.”
Plato was right in suspecting that many would not be satisfied with the simpler way of life. He was describing the origin of an economic war. He began with the philosophical assumption that people ought to be satisfied with the simplest of necessities, but that in- reality they would tend toward the unlimited accumulation of wealth. In other words, their desires tended to outstrip their achievements; having one good, they could always imagine a better one which then became an object of attainment. If we substitute for Plato’s “unlimited accumulation of wealth” the modern conception of the attainment of the ego ideal, we will have a true description of the facts. His assumption at the end as to the “evils” in states was philosophical also, and does not enter into our consideration here.
War is thus not something entirely foreign and inimical to human aspiration, as it is so often described, but is on the contrary the final phase of a struggle to attain national and personal ideals of good which goes on ceaselessly. It has its origin in the individuals who make up the nation. There is no justification for the assertion so often made that the ultimate ideal of the great masses of men is peace or even that they always ardently long for peace, and work for it. There is no such inconsistency as that in human nature. They have often in the past, and will again in the future, desire war as a means to an end, and will devote their whole energies to its prosecution. A modern war is a people’s war. Through leaders acceptable to them, they formulate and support the policies which lead to war. If it is to be attacked, it must be through the individuals who cause it. So long as individuals organized into groups are in competition, and nations, races, and creeds set up their elaborate and opposed ideas of good, the possibility of war will exist. So long as it is possible for an organized group to attain an ideal dear to its heart by war, then there will be a possibility of war. It is a mistake to imagine that the nations of the world, or that a majority in any one of the great nations, regard war as always an unqualified curse. Those nations which have survived to this day have a lively memory of liberties won by war, and of great hopes realized. Would each one of the victorious Allies give up the fruits of its victory, if it were possible to undo the World War, and return to the status of 1914? I presume to doubt it. Possibly some would, but not all. For some of them that conflict brought what seems to them a commensurate good, in spite of its evils.
This is not a defense of war as war, but an attempt at a psychologically sound explanation of its causes. Nor is it an indictment of the human race. Man is not considered as inherently good or bad; he is only so by comparison with his own standards. He is merely a certain kind of creature acting in a certain environment in a fairly predictable manner. Nor is it concerned with how men should behave, that is, with any religious or ethical questions, but rather with how we actually observe them to behave.
Whatever its causes, it is the theory of many people that force is necessary to prevent war. This is undoubtedly so. Such civilization as we know has been achieved by a slow adjustment to changing conditions. In this adjustment, force has played a part of paramount importance. If men have become better able to live with each other it was largely because they had to. And it was undoubtedly with these ideas in mind that a league to enforce peace was proposed. At first glance, the appeals for an international force to punish war-makers have a certain plausibility. But a closer examination reveals their fatal defects. To return to Dr. McDougall’s suggestion, considering it as representative of such proposals:
“The concrete proposal is here made,” he says, “that all nations that have joined the League of Nations shall bind themselves to make, and to permit to be made, for commercial purposes, or to be owned by their nationals, no airplanes capable of a greater speed than 100 miles an hour; and that they shall combine to establish and maintain at the highest point of efficiency an international police force furnished with highspeed planes and all that contributes to make attack from the air irresistibly overwhelming. Such a police force distributed at well-chosen spots could both directly protect any member nation from aerial attack, and by threatening the capital of any nation, could compel submission to the edicts of the authority controlling the police force. What that authority should be may be a matter for discussion, but it would seem clear to me that it should be the International Court of Justice.”
Everyone who followed the debate attending the efforts to put the United States into the League of Nations will be familiar with the ideas which operate to render this plan impracticable. They may be sketched in swiftly. In the first place, the refusal of the United States to join the League of Nations, and the practical elimination of the idea of using force by the members of the League, show that the great nations will not consent to it. To do so deprives them of their freedom of judgment and action in matters they consider vital to their welfare, which they will never willingly give up. Even should they consent in principle, they would reserve means for avoiding it should they desire. This is the history of the idea as applied to the League, where there was no real international force, but only one to be constituted in an emergency by contributions from the various national forces. If they were unwilling to do even that, on what grounds can there be any expectation that they will voluntarily subject themselves to the permanent threat of an “irresistibly overwhelming” air force whose control is out of their hands? The answer is that they never will consent to it, and argument and exhortation to that end are futile as long as the world retains its sanity.
If it be assumed for the sake of further discussion that enough nations might consent in principle to the constitution of such a force, who would they trust to control it? Not to any international court, unless their own member had the veto power. In this case all effective control would be lost, for any one of the participating powers could nullify the orders of the court. They would insist on some sort of provision to this effect, for there would never be any certainty of the absolute impartiality of the court, or that aggression could be justly discerned. This would be a most vital concern, in view of the theoretically irresistible power of the international air force and the speed with which its attack would be made. And when it is a life and death matter, nations care very little for impartiality and justice. What they want then is security, and the means to defend themselves. The same objections apply to control by any international deliberative body. It is necessary to the success of the plan that the force be strong enough and that it act swiftly enough to compel submission to the edicts of the controlling authority. The great nations will see to it that no external authority acquires any such powers of life and death over them.
In view of these facts, it is profitable to consider only one other feature of this proposal. Could such a force actually be maintained in sufficient power and in such strategic locations as to be in a position to compel submission? The answer will be clear from a consideration of a specific case. Peace has now existed between the United States and Canada for more than a century; they can therefore be used as examples without offense to either. The international air force is to be distributed “at well-chosen spots” to protect any member nation, and to threaten the capital of any nation which disobeys the edicts of the controlling authority. Where is that “well-chosen” spot in the North American continent? Would the United States consent to its location in Canada, or Canada to its location in the United States? I think not. Possibly it would be on the border. Then comes the trifling question of its commanders and its rank and file. In theory they must be strict internationalists, having no emotional ties or antipathies toward any nation. There are no such persons. It is impossible to imagine for a moment that either country would allow the importation of Frenchmen or Germans or Italians, or any one else. There would therefore be on the American side of the border an American force, and on the other a Canadian force—a perfect balance of air power, and the idea has returned to us with a complete record of futility.
If we grant the truth of what has been said, it does not necessarily follow that the world is doomed forever to frequent martial orgies. Just as all the other elements of civilization have been achieved by a slow adjustment to increasingly complex conditions, so is the prevention of war a matter of slow adjustment. There is no royal road to peace. It seems probable that the threat of war will persist for ages, but that wars themselves will become fewer, and will occur at greater and greater intervals. The constitution of man is dynamic, not static. It is difficult to imagine human institutions as crystallized in form, or political organizations in a perfect state of equilibrium. Among the conditions of life are growth, change, decay. Until the living world becomes static, there will be growth and decay, aspiration and clash of interests, a passionate clinging to the good in life as men see it, a struggle to attain ideals, and the consequent threat of war.
We can, however, imagine a future in which generations will live and die without ever experiencing war. That will come about through the convergence of two things; the first is the increasing destructiveness of war; and the second is the extension of the principle of arbitration.
War was once an incident in the life of a nation, carried on by specialists. A first rate war is now waged by the whole mass of the people. The whole vitality and wealth of the nation is concerned. Greater organization and more ingenious weapons have extended its powers for harm. It consumes wealth at an appalling rate. Within comparatively recent times its weapons were only the gun and the sword. Now they include the gun and the bayonet, mines, torpedoes, bombs, and poison gas, all of increasing power. The airplane, with its bomb and poison gas, may develop so far as to provide a means whereby even a relatively weak nation may do great damage to a stronger opponent. It appears to me that the frightfulness of the “next” war has been greatly exaggerated. But the time may come when no imaginable good to be attained could outweigh the frightfulness of battle. Faced with the possibility of sudden and overwhelming catastrophe, nations will perforce alter their ideals and their policies to provide a minimum clash of interest with others, and turn to battle only as a last resort, in defense of their most prized ideals, preferring at last to accept the chance of annihilation rather than the certainty of degradation. This is the logical evolution of present conditions. So long as each nation sees its neighbors ready to defend themselves effectively, it will hesitate to pursue its own ends too far. It will be willing to live and let live. The Golden Rule will become a fact, and not a theory.
This is the justification for the maintenance of powerful armies and navies, and the basis for the claim that their existence promotes peace rather than that it provokes war. The history of the last half century shows that modern military might also has a more subtle influence for the promotion of peace. Fear of the consequences of war leads to an extension of the principles of arbitration, of international codes, and of amicable adjustment of disputes. In time this may become a habit, and may become incorporated into the behavior patterns, and national and personal ideals, to be departed from more and more infrequently, and only under the stress of what appears to be urgent necessity. The people of America like to believe that that is a part of their national ideal even now. This beneficent role of military force is well understood by all save sentimentalists. It is the theory on which responsible statesmen proceed in laying their plans for the military forces, and on which public opinion supports the appropriations.
It is a fact that the events of the past decade have brought only confusion and frustration to those who viewed the war to end war with such high hopes. Public opinion has decisively rejected their proposals. There remains only the highly advertised movement to “outlaw” war. This idea has had a curious history. It was first used to strengthen the idea of a league to enforce peace. Makers of aggressive war were to be declared outside the law, and punished for high international crime. When public opinion became set against covenants to enforce peace, the idea was brought forward with a radically altered meaning. It now became a great moral renunciation. War was to be abolished simply
by declaring it illegal; no political or military commitments were in any way involved except an international agreement forever renouncing war. It aimed at a solemn declaration on the part of each nation to renounce war as an instrument of national policy, at the formulation of a new and comprehensive code of international law, and at the creation of another world court to interpret that law. It has since been unalterably opposed to the League of Nations, or, indeed, to any league. In the words of Mr. Walter Lippmann, the phrase is associated with a “perfect record of irreconcilability.”
“We find,” he says, “that the phrase was first employed in order to strengthen a League before there was a League. It was used to defeat the League after there was a League, and to advocate an international court before there was a Court. Now that the Court has been created, it is being used to defeat the Court, and to advocate another court which does not exist.”
Out of all this confusion there arises the strange spectacle of the leaders of the universal peace movement battling among themselves for the supremacy of opposed ideas. We hear Mr. H. G. Wells deriding “outlawry” in terms of cynicism and disillusionment. And we hear its advocates asserting that it is “outlawry” or nothing. Students of international relations will have no hesitancy in predicting that the present campaign to “outlaw” war between sovereign states will end in the usual documents providing for arbitration, with reservations that exclude practically all the subjects that
might give rise to friction between states, and that the movement will finally merge completely into the older ideas of arbitration and conciliation.
It is futile to expect universal peace through the agency of some magic institution created overnight at the theorist’s study table. It is also futile to believe that men can be changed from patriots to internationalists by exhortation or argument. So far is the world from becoming internation- ized that the peacemakers at Paris after the World War listened to the demands of many small nationalities for independence, and found it expedient to comply with some of them. The spirit of nationalism is growing, not diminishing. It can be guided toward adequate concepts of benevolence, sympathy, and understanding for others, and must be kept from a narrow and provincial chauvinism. So long as a man believes in the ideals of his country he will have a passionate attachment to it. That attachment may be made productive of the highest good of which he is capable, for himself, for his countrymen, and for the world.
What, then, will be the attitude of the healthy state? It will seek to promote the welfare of its inhabitants. In its dealings with other nations it will be animated by the spirit of fair play, knowing that that is for its welfare as well as for theirs. It will look to its ideals, and shape its policies to that end. It will desire peace, and to that end it will not neglect its obligation to provide for its own defense, realizing that it cannot shift that responsibility to any other institution.