Last week THE NEW REPUBLIC insisted that we cannot talk with much point about preparedness until we have answered the question, prepared for what? Behind any question about arming or disarming lies the question of how we intend to act as a nation among nations. Until we know, at least in a general way, what part we mean to play in the world’s affairs, we shall never have even the vaguest notion of whether we are underarmed or overarmed. No fleet and no army is powerful enough for every conceivable emergency, and even the most inefficient navy and insignificant military force is not a guarantee that war can be avoided. So long as we discuss simply the question of armament and ignore the purpose of the armament, we shall be like a farmer who bought a plough before he had selected his farm, or a man who spent hours gazing at wedding-rings before he had met a woman who would marry him.
Both pacifists and militarists—to use inaccurate but convenient words—proclaim their interest in peace. It remains for the public to require both of them to explain the foreign policy they have in mind before they proceed to adopt means for carrying it out. What do they understand by the Monroe Doctrine? How large a responsibility does it imply? How far do they wish to go in upholding it? Will they fight any possible aggressor, will they accept only limited responsibility, say to the equator, will they invite other nations to share the cost of maintaining it? Surely questions like these have to be answered before it is reasonable to talk of preparedness. Where do the pacifists and militarists stand on the question of Asia? Are they for Oriental exclusion, for all that the Open Door implies, for holding the Philippines and Hawaii and Alaska against all comers? Where do they stand on the creation of a merchant marine to compete with England’s and Germany’s? Do they feel any direct interest in a better settlement of Europe? How far do they wish to go in maintaining the law of nations, in championing the rights of neutrals? These are the problems of war and peace, and preparedness is only a word which signifies that we know what we wish to do and have the means to do that thing.
The advocates of peace-at-any-prince would probably reply that they believe in maintaining the traditional American policies by moral force and perhaps by economic pressure, but that when the ultimate test came they would choose not war but a splendid isolation. In our opinion that is an impossible course. American isolation splendid or otherwise is ended forever. We cannot afford to live complacently in a world where a quarrel between the Magyars and the southern Slavs throws our whole life into a sink of depression, and balks the political and social reforms upon which our hearts are set. We must act to help make the world secure because our own security depends on it. We had no say in the diplomacy which made this war, yet we find ourselves the virtual allies of one side, our national life thrown into a profound reaction, our ships attacked, our hopes overturned, our own people strained in its allegiance. Surely isolation in such case is a myth. Are we then to sit by and see the diplomats of Europe lay the ground for another great war, without consulting us, without our giving advice, all because we are deluded about our isolation?
On that assumption, that we have to play an active role, three general courses lie open to us. We may be able to enter a league of peace, accept its protection, and bear our share of the burdens. Or we can come to a definite understanding with the more peaceful democracies of the world, especially with the British Empire and France; we can agree to stake out spheres of common defence and contribute a definite share of naval and military power in return for a proportionate control of the joint powers. Or we can adopt both policies at once—an agreement with the British Empire in regard to the sea, agreement with the chief South American republics in regard to the Monroe Doctrine, and at the same time lend our support to some such world organization for dealing with disputes as the proposed league of peace.
Any one of these policies involved immense risk, but no more risk than does our present policy of drifting isolation accompanied by programs as dangerous as the Monroe Doctrine, Oriental exclusion, and commercial expansion. Our true preparedness will mean the clear-sighted adoption of a new foreign policy to meet the new facts of the world, and on the basis of that policy the creation of power to uphold it. That power will consist not only of armed forces but of economic and moral weapons, such as the boycott, a discriminating neutrality, and forms of non-military pressure.
THE NEW REPUBLIC is convinced that isolation is ended; it is inclined to advocate an understanding with the British Empire, the A. B. C. Powers, as well as the general idea contained in a league of peace. But at this moment it would be folly to prescribe too definitely. If only these questions of foreign policy can be made part of the debate between militarists and pacifists, a great step will have been taken. The need just now is for discussion of the issues which are more important than armament because they determine it.
This article originally ran in the July 3, 1915, issue of the magazine.