4158 HOW THE WAR CAME TO AMERICA
had been duly ratified and proclaimed. But in this work, too, we were made to
feel the same opposition as at The Hague. For while Great Britain, France,
Russia and Italy cordially welcomed our overtures, the German and Austro Hungarian Empires were noticeably absent from the list of those nations
who desired by specific agreements in advance to minimize the danger of
On the eve of the present conflict, our position toward other nations might
have been summarized under three heads:
1. The Monroe Doctrine.-We had pledged ourselves to defend the New
World from European aggression, and we had by word and deed made it
clear that we would not intervene in any European dispute.
II. The freedom of the seas.-In every naval conference our influence
had been given in support of the principle that sea law to be just and worthy
of general respect must be based on the consent of the governed.
III. Arbitration.-As we had secured peace at home by referring interstate disputes to a federal tribunal, we urged a similar settlement of international controversies. Our ideal was a permanent world court. We had
already signed arbitration treaties not only with great powers which might
conceivably attack us, but even more freely with weaker neighbors in order
to show our good faith in recognizing the equality of all nations both great
and small. We had made plain to the nations our purpose to forestall by
every means in our power the recurrence of wars in the world.
The outbreak of war in 1914 caught this Nation by surprise. The peoples
of Europe had had at least some warnings of the coming storm, but to us
such a blind, savage onslaught on the ideals of civilization had appeared
The war was incomprehensible. Either side was championed here by
millions living among us who were of European birth. Their contradictory
accusations threw our thoughts into disarray, and in the first chaotic days
we could see no clear issue that affected our national policy. There was no
direct assault on our rights. It seemed at first to most of us a purely European dispute, and our minds were not prepared to take sides in such a conflict.
The President's proclamation of neutrality was received by us as natural
and inevitable. It was quickly followed by his appeal to "the citizens of
"Every man who really loves America will act and speak in the true spirit
of neutrality," he said, "which is the spirit of impartiality and fairness and
friendliness to all concerned. * * * It will be easy to excite passion and
difficulty to allay it." He expressed the fear that our Nation might become