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Geo. Clarke

How Pacifism Led Us into War

(January 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 1, 4 January 1934, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Franklin D. Roosevelt recently paid a glowing tribute to the memory of his predecessor, Woodrow Wilson on the anniversary of his birth. The greatest virtue of this late president was his “pacific” method of handling international disputes, the earnest endeavor to settle them without recourse to arms. This method, which Roosevelt claims he is attempting to perpetuate, was tested in the crucible of events. How did it work? What were the results of pacifism when espoused by the chief officer holder of the United States?

Pacifism is a gospel consecrated to the abolition of war. It abhors the slaughter of man by man. Believing as it does that armed conflict between nations is a reversion of man to barbarism, an inflammation of his savage instincts caused by a lack of adequate education, it is a confirmed advocate of peace conferences, disarmament, non-aggression pacts, etc., as the sure method of making the Christmas spirit everlasting. The war president, Woodrow Wilson, espoused these ideas.

“He Kept Us Out of War.”

This college professor, erudite, a lover of the Jeffersonian rhetoric as employed by the slave owning aristocracy in whose territory and tradition he passed the greater part of his life, was elected to his second term as the man who “kept us out of the war” then raging on the European continent. Fact and life later disproved this campaign slogan. In all truth, however, Wilson was quite sincere in his “neutrality” policy towards the European conflict because he had not originated in the environs of imperialistic big business. His life was associated with the middle class, the southern planters included, whose economic interests at the time were bound up more in the domesctic than in the foreign market. Cold reality and the center of economic gravity proved stronger than Wilson’s empty phrases and pacifistic flourishes, as we shall see.

Wilson, the Dove of Peace

The outbreak of the mad scramble for spoils in Europe found America in a peculiarly advantageous position, which permitted Wilson to be the dove of peace and the thermometer of the anti-war sentiments then current in this country. The pacifists were satisfied that it was a “foreign” war in which the U.S. had no reason to be entangled. The bankers were content to finance food and commodity exports to both the Allies’ and the Entente. The munition makers sold death dealing weapons to all the belligerent powers. The people did not want war and paid no particular attention to the atrocity stories emanating from English or German sources.

Even the militaristic Theodore Roosevelt could support the policy of neutrality. He expressed the prevailing sentiment, when he said in an article in the New Outlook for September 23, 1914, that “very probably nothing that we could have done would have helped Belgium. We have not the smallest responsibility for what has befallen her.” Wilson was in his element. No decision was required of him and, righteously indignant, he could reprimand the “mad dogs” that were making a shambles out of Europe.

Pacifism Leading Into War

The workers and the people in general were lulled into a false security. They had sopped up the propaganda of Wilson’s publicity agent, George Creel, who warned in the 1916 presidential campaign that: “Repudiation of Woodrow Wilson involves repudiation of the policy of neutrality and a return to the evil days, when armed force was the only method of adjusting disputes.” But even as the people were thinking that their intellectual president heeded none of the inspired war stories, and documentary evidence seems to bear that out, events were at work that knocked Wilson off the fence.

The British government barred all shipments to Germany or its allies and to make this certain the British navy blockaded the North Sea, intervening all vessels with Germany or Central power ports as destination declaring their cargoes “contraband”. Despite all of Wilson’s ardent protestations, this field for imperialist investment and commodity export was definitely and irrevocably closed. The bankers were sore. But the Allied war needs were lucrative enough. Concurrently the tide of the war was turning in favor of German imperialism, thereby jeopardizing Wall Street profits and the return on their huge loans to the Allies ...

The “War to End All Wars”

The atrocity stories became more gruesome. Preparedness talk Increased in intensity. The Huns were destroying civilization, etc., etc. The vested interests, the real rulers of the nation, brought pressure to bear on the President, the nominal ruler, who began to fume at the barbarism of “Prussian militarism”. That Wilson was a pacifist, a believer in the “human way of adjudicating disputes between nations” was no obstacle to his bellicose threats and warnings to Germany. On the contrary, pacifism was a distinct help to him.

In his war message to congress he reflected! the “frustrated” hopes voiced by press, pulpit, educators, and others, declaring that he had tried to keep the country out of the European holocaust with all the strength at his command, that America was a peace-loving nation. But now it was impossible to abstain any longer, for Germany had violated every law of man and God; the “Boche” was trampling on the interests of humanity and the peoples of this country would be cowards and traitors, indeed, if they did not lend a hand to drive back the black hordes threatening civilization. The pacifism that had endeavored to keep America out of the war was not at an end, however. It had merely become belligerent now. Its slogan was “war to end all wars” and Wilson was the apostle.

“To Make the World Safe for Democracy”

The President, who not long before had boasted that America was “too proud to fight”, plunged into tho job of the successful prosecution of the war “to make the world safe tor democracy.” (This was no deterrent to the administration in imprisoning Eugene V. Debs and hundreds of others for insisting on democracy in Wilson’s country.) While the Princeton University president was sending hundreds of American workers across the seas to kill and be killed for the “humanitarianism” of Wall Street’s profits, his pacifism continued unabated.

Prussian militarism was defeated. Wilson went to Paris full of hope for his idealistic solution of the conflict only to find that the victorious bandits of allied imperialism scorned his pacifism, demanding their share of the spoils they had won. Wilson capitulated. He signed the ignominious Treaty of Versailles, which perpetuated and deepened all the imperialistic wounds of the war, receiving in return ironic concessions, like the League of Imperialistic Brigands at Geneva, self determination of several nations which were meat for France and Great Britain, etc., Wilson was hailed in Europe as the evangel of peace. The social democracy went wild over the great American democrat. He was acclaimed as a godsend, literally. Then he returned to America ...

The Downfall of Wilson

The capitalist class wanted none of his peace of Versailles. They lined up the country solidly and hostilely against him. The pacifism of Wilson, that had led America into the war and had prosecuted it successfully, was now outlived. American imperialism had other interests. Congress repudiated. Wilson and he was showered with a storm of abuse by the press which called him a “hopeless visionary”.

Wilson died a broken man, but pacifism did not die with him. The clouds of a new imperialist war for a new division of the world’s territories and a further annihilation of the flower of the working class bang heavily as if there had never been a “war to end all wars”. Pacifism stands at the helm again. Another Wilson, many Wilsons will be on hand to lead us into a war, with other slogans perhaps but with fundamentally the same aims – profits, profits and more profits.

Be wary of pacifists and pacifism! This is our message, our commemoration of the late Woodrow Wilson.

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