Page 4158

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

war.

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

impossible.

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

the Republic".

"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