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Jean Jules Jusserand (1855–1932). With Americans of Past and Present Days. 1916.

VII. From War to Peace

An Address Delivered Before the American Society for the Judicial Settlement of International Disputes, December 17, 1910

DOES peace mean progress? Is the disappearance of war a sign of improvement or of decay? At a yet recent date learned men, their eyes to their microscopes, were teaching us that among the various kinds of living creatures they had studied, war was the rule; that where struggle ceased, life ceased; and that, since more beings came into the world than the world could feed, the destruction of the weakest was both a necessity and a condition of progress. Struggle, war, violence meant development; peace meant decay. And a bold generalization applied to reasoning man the fate and conditions of unreasoning vermin. Since it was fate, why resist the inevitable and what could be the good of peace debates?

But the stumbling-block that Science had placed on the road to better days has been removed by Science herself. The sweeping conclusions attributed to that great man Darwin by pupils less great have been scrutinized; other experiments, such as he would have conducted himself had he been living, were tried, and their results added to our book of knowledge. Great results, indeed, and notable ones; it turned out that the explanation of transformism, of progress, of survival, was not to be found in a ceaseless war insuring the predominance of the fittest, but in quiet and peaceful adaptation to environment, to climate, and to circumstances. And we French are excusably proud to see that, for having unfolded those truths years before Darwin wrote, due honor is now rendered almost everywhere, and especially in America, to Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, author of the long obscure and now famous Philosophie Zoologique, 1809.

As for the undue multiplication of individuals, statistics unknown to Darwin have since shown that, whatever may be the case with beetles or fishes (and let them work out their own problems according to their own laws), there is, for man at least, no need of self-destruction to ward off such a peril: the general decrease of the rate of reproduction, so striking throughout the world, is all that is wanted, and in some cases is even more than is wanted.

War, therefore, is not our unavoidable fate, and that much of the road has been cleared: a long road followed amid terrible sufferings by mankind through centuries. The chief danger in times past, and partly still in our own, does not result from an ineluctable fate, but from the private disposition of men and of their leaders. And we know what for ages those dispositions were. Former-day chroniclers are wont to mention, as a matter of course, that “the king went to the wars in the season,” as he would have gone a-fishing. People at large saw not only beauty in war (as there is in a just war, and of the highest order, exactly as there is in every duty fulfilled), but they saw in it an unmixed beauty. Men and nations would take pride in their mercilessness, and they were apt to find in the sufferings of an enemy an unalloyed pleasure.

Such were the feelings of the time. To none of the master artists who represented the day of judgment on the walls of Rome, Orvieto, or Padua, or on the portals of our northern cathedrals, did the thought occur to place among his fierce angels driving the guilty to their doom, one with a tear on his face: a tear that would have made the artist more famous than all his art; a tear, not because the tortures could be supposed to be unjust or the men sinless, but because they were tortures and because the men had been sinful. Dies iræ!

Artists belonged to their time and expressed their time’s thought. The teaching of saints and of thinkers long remained of little avail. War, that “human malady,” as Montaigne said, was considered as impossible to heal as rabies was— until the day when a Pasteur came. Yet protests began to be more perceptibly heard as men better understood what they themselves were and commenced to suspect that the time might come when all would be equal before the law. Nothing, Tocqueville has observed, is so conducive to mercy as equality.

All those who, in the course of centuries, led men to the conquest of their rights can be truly claimed as the intellectual ancestors of the present promoters of a sane international peace: men like our Jean Bodin, who, while upholding, as was unavoidable in his day, the principle of autocracy, yet based his study of the government of nations on the general interests of the commonwealth, and who, in opposition to Machiavelli, who had called his book The Prince, called his The Republic. To Bodin, who protests against the so-called right of the strongest, have been traced some of the principles embodied much later in the American and in the French “Declaration of the Rights of Man.”

Such thinkers truly deserve the name of forerunners; such men as that great Hugo Grotius, whose ever-living fame was not without influence on the selection of his own country as the seat of the peace conferences of our day, and who, being then settled in France, near Senlis, dedicated to King Louis XIII his famous work on war and peace, so memorable for its denunciation of frivolous wars and wanton cruelties.

Soon the names of those to be honored for the same cause became legion: men like Pascal, Saint-Pierre, the Encyclopedists, Kant, Bentham, Tocqueville, and many others.

Among Pascal’s Thoughts is this memorable one, which forecasts and sums up much of what has since been or will be done: “When it is a question of deciding whether war should be waged, of sentencing so many Spaniards to death, one man only decides, and one who is interested. The decision ought to rest with an impartial third party.”

A little later, that strange Abbé de Saint-Pierre was writing those works considered as so many wild dreams in his day and no longer read at all in ours. But if he were to return now, he would, according to one of his latest critics, feel not at all dismayed, but say: “This is all for the best; you need not study my works, since you have put in practise nearly all my ideas; there remains only my Perpetual Peace; but, like the others, its turn will come.”

If its turn has not come yet, great practical steps have surely been taken toward it, chief among them that move, so unexpected a few years ago, so dubiously wondered at when it occurred, and now so thoroughly accepted, that, as in the case of all great inventions, one wonders how things could go on before it existed: the calling of the first conference at The Hague by the Emperor of Russia, Nicholas II.

“The maintenance of general peace,” read the Russian circular of August, 1898, “and a possible reduction of the excessive armaments which weigh upon all nations, present themselves in the actual situation of the world, as the ideal toward which should tend the efforts of all governments.… The ever-increasing financial expense touches public prosperity at its very source; the intellectual and physical powers of peoples, labor and capital, are, most of it, turned aside from their natural functions and consumed unproductively.… To put an end to those ceaseless armaments and to find means for preventing the calamities which threaten the entire world, such is the supreme duty which to-day lies upon all states.”

When one man, then another, then another, had come and said: I can draw the lightning from the clouds; I can rise in the air; I can flash your words and thoughts to any distance you please; I can cure rabies by inoculating rabies; I can make you talk with your friend miles away; I can navigate a boat under the sea, scepticism had scarcely been greater than when the circular took the world by surprise. The issue seemed more than doubtful; many among the most sanguine barely hoped to succeed in preventing the absolute failure that would have killed such a project for generations.

Shortly afterward I happened to be in St. Petersburg and had the honor of being received by the Emperor. The conversation fell on the “Great Design,” to give it the name used for the very different plan (implying coercion) attributed two centuries before to the French King Henry IV. I was struck by the quiet conviction of the originator of the new movement as to its ultimate results, and his disposition not to give up the plan if at first it met with difficulties and delays. Emperor Nicholas summed up his views with the remark: “One must wait longer when planting an oak than when planting a flower.”

Longer, indeed, yet not so very long, after all. The first conference took place, and in it, I may say, the delegations of our two Republics presided over by such statesmen and thinkers as Andrew D. White and Léon Bourgeois, failed not to fulfill the part assigned to our democracies by their ideals and traditions. In spite of scepticism, that first conference reached an unexpected measure of success. Eight years later a second one was convened on the felicitous suggestion of President Roosevelt, and now the supposedly useless mechanism from dreamland has been so heartily accepted by mankind at large, all over the globe, that the approximate date for a third one has already been selected. Governments at first doubted that one would be of any use; now they want more.

The word had been spoken indeed at the proper moment. The teachings of philosophers and of experience, the outcome of revolutions, a more vivid sense of equality among men imbuing them with mercy, according to Tocqueville, had caused the seed to fall on prepared ground. We scarcely realize, looking at it from so near, how great the movement thus started has already become. The practical ideas put forth less than a dozen years ago have progressed so much that more treaties of arbitration have been signed between the first Hague Conference and now than between the day of creation and that conference. I take, if I may be permitted to allude to my own feelings, no small pride in having concluded the first one, duly ratified by both countries, ever signed by the United States with any European Power, and I was glad to thus continue an old-established tradition, since, in the matter of treaties with the United States, be they treaties of commerce, alliance, or amity, France has been accustomed to take the lead among nations.

Quicker, indeed, than was anticipated by the sower himself, the oak has grown and the nations can rest under its shade. Several important appeals have been made to the court of The Hague, the United States taking the lead and giving to all the best example. Those experiments, which most of the great Powers have already tried, have had manifold advantages: they have shown that dangerous quarrels could thus be honorably settled; they have shown also that defects in the working of the court exist and should be remedied.

Public utterances and circulars from Presidents Roosevelt and Taft and from Secretaries of State Root and Knox have pointed out the importance of trying to establish a permanent court, with judges ever present, paid by the associated nations, selected from among men of such a high moral standing as to be above influence of creed or nationality, true citizens of the world, fit magistrates to judge the world.

In these views, the future realization of which the second conference has insured, France heartily concurred, having indeed, during the first conference, initiated an early preliminary move toward continuity and permanence.

Given these more and more enlightened dispositions among governments, it may seem that the work of a private society like this must needs be of comparatively little import. The reverse is the truth. It has an immense power for good, for it can act directly on the lever that moves the world: public opinion. So powerful is such a lever that even in the past, in times when men were not their own masters, public opinion had to be reckoned with; such imperious leaders of men as a Richelieu or a Napoleon knew it better than any one. Opinio veritate major, had even cynically said the great philosopher Francis Bacon. But if opinion can occasionally defeat truth, much better can it defend truth. With the spreading of instruction and with an easier access to men’s minds through books, journals, public meetings, and free discussion, its power against truth has been considerably diminished and its power for good increased and purified.

You know this and act accordingly. Though doing so in your private capacity, you conform in fact to the instructions drawn by a masterly hand for the American delegates at the second conference at The Hague. In these instructions Secretary Root told the delegates never to forget that “the object of the conference was agreement, not compulsion,” and that the agreements reached should be “genuine and not reluctant.”

This is, undoubtedly, the road to follow, a road not yet smooth, nor cleared of its rocks and pitfalls. The dangers continue to be many. One of the dangers is of asking too much too soon and of causing nations to fear that, if they make any little concession, they will be led by degrees to a point where, being peacefully disarmed, their continuance as a nation will depend upon the will, the good faith and the excellent virtues of some one else. Another is to describe war as being such an abominable thing in itself, whatever be its occasion, as to cause that public opinion on which so much depends to rebel against the preacher and his whole doctrine.

Let us not forget that, even in the land of “Utopia,” the country of Nowhere, in which every virtue of good citizenship was practised, and war held as a monstrosity, rem plane beluinam, all wars had not been abolished. Sir Thomas More informs us that Utopians make war for two causes and keep, therefore, well drilled. The causes are: First, “to defend their own country”; second, “to drive out of their friends’ land the enemies that have invaded it.” We have waged in the past such wars and cannot pretend to feel repentant.

Such wars continue to be unavoidable to-day, and to deny this is only to increase the danger of a revulsion of feeling among well-disposed nations. What we may hope and must strive for is that, with the development of mankind, a better knowledge of our neighbors, an understanding that a difference is not necessarily a vice, nor a criticism a threat, with that better instruction which a society like this one is giving to the many, a time may come when that same public opinion will render impossible the two sorts of casus belli for which More deems war to be not only necessary but noble and virtuous.

No less dangerous is it to load war with all the sins in Israel, thus running the same risk of making people rebel not only against the preacher but against his very creed. When we are told by the pacifist that, owing to the wars of the early nineteenth century, only inferior people were left in France to perpetuate the race, we wonder how it is that she got a Victor Hugo, an Alexandre Dumas, a Louis Pasteur, sons of soldiers of Napoleon, all three. We wonder how, in spite of this supposed survival of “the weakest,” that country got so many thinkers, philosophers, poets, artists, soldiers, explorers; how the venturous spirit of the former “coureurs de bois” awoke again in our days with such notable results in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere; how birth was given in our land to the inventors of the dirigible, the automobile, the submarine, photography, and radium; how the love of sport in the race has reappeared of late, as active as it had ever been in the remote times when football and cricket found in France their rough-hewn cradle.

Exaggeration will not help, but on the contrary surely hurt. Truth, if we follow her, is certain to lead to better times. She has already. Wars in former centuries lasted a hundred years, then they lasted thirty years, then seven years; and now, as disastrous as ever, it is true, but separated by longer intervals, they last one year. You are about to celebrate a hundred years’ peace with England; so are we.

That move toward truer, longer, perhaps one day definitive peace, has been prophesied long before our time, not merely by a dreamer like Abbé de Saint-Pierre, but by one who had a rare experience of men, of war, and of peace, and who, considering especially the influence of trade on nations, once said:

“Although I pretend to no peculiar information respecting commercial affairs, nor any foresight into the scenes of futurity, yet as the member of an infant empire, as a philanthropist by character, and (if I may be allowed the expression) as a citizen of the great republic of humanity at large, I cannot help turning my attention sometimes to this subject. I would be understood to mean that I cannot help reflecting with pleasure on the probable influence that commerce may hereafter have on human manners and society in general. On these occasions I consider how mankind may be connected like one great family in fraternal ties. I indulge a fond, perhaps an enthusiastic idea that, as the world is evidently less barbarous than it has been, its amelioration must still be progressive; that nations are becoming more humanized in their policy, that the subjects of ambition and causes for hostility are daily diminishing; and in fine that the period is not very remote when the benefits of a liberal and free commerce will pretty generally succeed to the devastations and horrors of war.”

Thus wrote to Lafayette, on the 15th of August, 1786, that “citizen of the great republic of humanity,” George Washington.

That practical results have been secured is certain; that better ones are in store, if we act wisely, is no less certain. Mankind longs for less troubled days, and moves toward this not inaccessible goal. Such is the truth; and we may feel confident that, according to the oft-quoted word of dying Wyclif, “Truth shall conquer.”


A few years after this address had been delivered threatening clouds began to gather. Germany, who had prevented, at the first conference of The Hague, anything being done toward a limitation of armaments as proposed by Russia, suddenly, in full peace, when other nations were inclined to think that they were rather too much armed than not enough, passed a law increasing, in a prodigious degree, her military forces.

On this move of hers, on what peace-loving democracies ought to do in the presence of such an unexpected event, on the future of the peace and arbitration ideas, after such a blow, the former president of the French delegation at The Hague, Mr. Léon Bourgeois, wrote in May, 1913, little more than a year before the present war, a noteworthy letter,in which we read:

“One fact strikes us most painfully and might at first disturb our minds. The bills presently submitted to the Reichstag are going to increase in a formidable manner the armaments of Germany, and to necessitate on the part of France an extraordinary effort, and sacrifices to which we must manfully and promptly consent.…

“No one more than myself deplores that folly of armaments to which Europe is yielding, and I do not forget that it was I who, in 1899, at the first Hague Conference, drew up and defended the resolution in favor of a limitation of the military load weighing on the world. But I do not forget either what I said before the Senate, in 1907, after the second conference: ‘As for us, confirmed partisans of arbitration and peace, disarmament is a consequence, not a preparation. For disarmament to be possible, one must first feel that one’s right is secure. The security of right is what must be organized first of all. Behind that rampart alone, nations will be able to lay down their arms.…

“Let us be pacific, but let us be strong. And let us know how to wait. The very excess of the load weighing on Europe will originate, sooner than is sometimes believed, that irresistible movement of opinion which will cause a policy of wisdom, mutual respect, and real security, to become an unavoidable necessity.”

The chief factor will be public opinion. Present events will, one may hope, have served to educate public opinion throughout the world.