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Adler, Philip A. (ed.) / The Wisconsin literary magazine
Volume XVI, Number 8 (May 1917)

McGilvary, Evander Bradley
War!,   pp. 231-233


Page 232

WISCONSIN LITERARY MAGAZINE
May, 1917
sented as showing her imperial designs to rule the whole
world. Neutrality in the war demanded that we should
fight England to secure free passage for our ships and
our commerce into the German ports through the lines
established by British naval supremacy. This was the
form that the pro-German propaganda took to offset
the prejudice against German militarism. It has found
numerous spokesmen, even in Congress.
Into the merits of the question of German militarism
vs. British navalism I cannot go here. Theoretically
there are two sides to every question; practically this
question has been decided. The British fleet has not
been an active menace to the world's peace, except as
the world's peace has been of late constantly endang-
ered by German ambitions to offset the power of this
fleet in her own interest. The British naval power has
been exercised according to the spirit of recognized in-
ternational law. If this is denied, and theoretically it is
open to denial, there is no question that the alleged
illegalities of British naval procedure were of such a
sort that the agencies of international law could be
used to rectify the injustice. Neutral ships were indeed
warned off the barred zones; but those that failed to
observe the warnings were caught and taken to British
ports. Property rights were involved; and these could
be adjusted by courts and by diplomacy.
Meanwhile a new navalism had arisen; this is Ger-
man navalism, the navalism of the buccaneer submarine.
Here also there is a warning-keep out of the barred
zone. But unsubmissive ships are not caught and taken
into German ports. They are sent to the bottom, with
loss of many lives. This is a matter that cannot wait
for adjudication by courts and by diplomacy. The
dead are dead; no court and no diplomacy can bring
them back to life, or make due restitution.
"But Germany can do no otherwise." The subma-
rine cannot put a prize crew aboard a captive; if Ger-
many's naval force is to be effective she must sink at
sight. Yes, there's the rub. If Germany is to win
with her navy she must sink without ruth. But this
principle, axiomatic as it is, is conditional. Must Ger-
many win? No doubt the Germans feel they must.
But ne, while we should try to put ourselves in Ger-
many's place in order to understand her difficult situa-
tion, are not obliged to take ourselves permanently out
of our own place; we must understand our vital inter-
ests. Shall we be neutral, to our own detriment, in or-
der that Germany may win? That is the question the
answer to which has brought us into the war.
But before we consider this question, let us look a
moment at what Germany demanded that we should
do. In her note agreeing to discontinue the unrestricted
use of the submarine after the sinking of the Sussex,
Germany reserved to herself the right to take up again
its unrestricted use unless we should prevail upon Eng-
land to discontinue her policy of starving Germany.
How could we prevail upon England? We had pro-
tested; we could only do two more things; we could
threaten war and we could declare war. Had Ger-
many forgotten that we had a treaty with England
binding us not to resort to war against her except after
resort to arbitration, and then only after giving us time
for cool thought before taking the irrevocable step of
war? But why not demand arbitration? Why not?
With all Europe in the war, except a few weak nations
that are in fear of their lives, where shall we find im-
partial arbitrators? In the heat of a world-conflict, can
a tribunal be found that would be acceptable to both
parties? That was the question that we and Great
Britain had to decide for ourselves. WXe decided in
fact, even if we did not go through the formal motions
of making a decision. And the decision was wise. But
at any rate it was not Germany's business what our de-
cision was. It was to her interest that we should have
decided differently. But unless she goes on the prin-
ciple that adverse decisions in matters to which she is
not a direct party relieves her of all international obli-
gations, she has nothing to do but to accept the decision.
But she did not accept. She insisted that we should
force England to stop her starvation blockade, in spite
of our treaty with England to arbitrate our disputes.
In other words she insisted that our treaties were scraps
of papers, just like her own, when her interests are
involved.
Here then we have thQ issue of the war. Is Ger-
many's interest to be allowed to control all dealings be-
tween nations? Is Germany's place in the sun so prec-
ious that all nations must step aside to make her room?
Is a nation that ignores all obligations and enforces her
will by sheer physical might to be allowed to continue
her victorious career unchecked and lord it autocrati-
cally over the world?
Germany's place in the sun? Whose place? That
of Germans? No, they have their place, and have had
it. They have been welcome here; they have been
welcome in Brazil; they have been welcome every-
where they have been willing to go and become citizens
in their chosen settlements. It is not the place of Ger-
mans in the sun that is at issue. It is the place of Ger-
many. And what is Germany? A nation, not a race;
for the race is now partly American in nationality, and
partly South-American. The Germany that wants a
place in the sun is the nation that is ruled by the Hoh-
enzollerns and their autocracy. It is the nation that to
have a place in the sun as a nation is willing to risk a
universal war; that is willing to support Austria in her
insolent ultimatum to Serbia; that is willing to violate
Belgian neutrality and lay Belgium waste; that is will-
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