Herbert Adams Gibbons
Excerpt: October, 1918, brought a sweeping and unexpected change in the fortunes of Germany. In London and Paris it was not believed that the crash would come so soon. British and French political and journalistic circles were discussing the all-absorbing subject of Foch’s forward movement on the western front.
The world of 1914, as we see it now, reminds us of Humpty Dumpty. Having climbed upon its wall with difficulty, to keep from being involved in every petty quarrel between nations and coalitions, the world had somehow managed to sit there for a hundred years. The status quo was revised here and there occasionally by violence. But the violence did not set back the hands of the clock, defy economic laws, or, with the exception of Alsace-Lorraine, make for international political instability. The developments of the nineteenth century were a logical growth, the result of the working out of economic laws, which means that thoughtful men and strong men led virile national groups successfully because they knew how to adapt their foreign policies to, and shape them by, changing political, economic, and social world conditions.
None was satisfied with Humpty Dumpty, but, for fear of the consequences, all bolstered him up and steadied him whenever he showed signs of toppling. When he did fall, the first dismay gave way to rejoicing. Now was our chance to make him over again into what we wanted him to be.
We forgot our nursery-rime. A new world order became our battle-cry. The Central Empires stood for the old order; the Entente Allies were determined to make a clean sweep of the international conditions that caused wars. Glibly repeated from mouth to mouth “A war to end war” was the phrase that appealed to our imagination. How? By emancipating subject races, by resurrecting submerged nations, by guaranteeing collectively the independence of weak states and the sanctity of treaties and international law.
We forgot our nursery-rime, I say. Some of us had no intention of actually letting Humpty Dumpty fall to pieces, and all of us thought we could put him together again according to our own plan and in a way that would suit us. But when we entered the fray idealistic principles and formulæ became weapons and not goals. Before November 11, 1918, we used our principles solely to break down the morale of our enemies; and since the defeat of Germany instead of making peace we have continued to juggle with our ideals as we did in war-time. So the world is still actually at war. The treaties forced upon the vanquished enemies have not been taken seriously. One of them has already come up for drastic revision and the others are not being fully enforced.
In justification of their unwillingness to apply in making peace the principles they had solemnly pledged themselves to use as the basis of the treaties, Entente statesmen had no grounds for claiming either (a) that the American President and his nation, late comers in the war, wrongly interpreted and formulated the Entente war aims, or (b) that the fulfilment of their promises was contingent upon American coöperation. Self-determination, the resurrection of subject nations, the rectification of frontiers to satisfy irredentist aspirations, may have been doctrines promulgated in a small measure as a gallery appeal to public opinion at home and abroad; but the main reason was to break down the internal military unity of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey. These doctrines were not inspired by President Wilson or other American ideologues, nor were they proclaimed with the idea that the United States would help to carry them out.
It was not intended that they should be carried out. But the new forces set loose were too strong to control. Peoples all over the world clamored for rights and privileges that it was the purpose to grant only to peoples that had been subject to the vanquished powers. To this cause of confusion, unrest, conspiracy, and open rebellion, were added the falling out of the victors over the spoils of war and the determination of France and some of the smaller nations to apply the law of retaliation to their now defenseless oppressors.
These are the three reasons why Europe since 1918 has not found peace. The League of Nations is impotent, with or without the United States as a member, to restore Europe to peace until the three Furies—Vanity, Greed, and Revenge—cease raging.
After the World War the movement in the United States to induce the American people to underwrite the Paris peace settlement did not succeed. The overwhelming rejection of their panacea for the ills of the world did not discourage the supporters of the Versailles Covenant. After four years they are returning to the campaign for American participation in the Versailles League. Since they cannot disguise the seriousness of conditions in Europe as the fourth year of the functioning of the League of Nations draws to a close, the earnest League propagandists, to get away from the remorseless logic of “By their fruits ye shall know them,” now assert that Europe’s troubles are our fault. We refused to ratify the treaty and enter the League of Nations; ergo, all these things have happened.
The writer, an observer and student of European affairs for fifteen years, has never had an ax to grind or theories and national causes to advance and champion. In the Near East during the years leading up to the World War, in Paris during the World War and the Peace Conference, and following the aftermath of the war since the treaties were signed, his sole ambition has been to record what he has observed. He is not pro-anything. He feels, as he did when he wrote “The New Map of Europe” in 1914, “The New Map of Africa” in 1916, and “The New Map of Asia” in 1919, that a host of people are seeking an unbiased presentation of contemporary events, so that sentimentality will not obscure common sense in forming their opinion on the important problem of America’s place in the world and America’s duty toward the world. We must know how things actually are in order that we may help effectively to make them what they ought to be.
Herbert Adams Gibbons.
Princeton, September, 1923.