For the clarification of the public mind on the issue involved, it is important that the limits of American neutrality should be discussed and understood. The action of the Government must be neutral in the best sense; but American sympathies and hopes cannot possibly be neutral, for the whole history and present state of American liberty forbids. For the present, thinking Americans can only try to appreciate the scope and real issues of this formidable convulsion, and so be ready to seize every opportunity that may present itself to further the cause of human freedom, and of peace at last.
CHARLES W. ELIOT.
Asticou, Me., Sept. 1, 1914.
Late Ambassador at Washington
from Great Britain; Chief
Secretary for Ireland, 1905-6; author of “The American
Commonwealth,” and of studies in history and biography.
It has been a great pleasure to see from your published letter, which has just reached us, that you so clearly understand the motive and feelings with which Great Britain has entered on the present war. Neither commercial rivalry nor any fancied jealousy of Germany’s greatness has led us into it, and to the German people our people bear no ill-will whatever. Along with many others I have worked steadily during long years for the maintenance of friendship with Germany, admiring the splendid gifts of the German race, and recognizing their enormous services to science, philosophy, and literature. We had hoped, as some thoughtful statesmen in Germany had also hoped, that by a cordial feeling between Germany and Britain the peace of Europe might be secured and something done to bring about permanently better relations between Germany and her two great neighbors with whom we found ourselves on friendly terms; and we had confidently looked to the United States to join with us in this task. But the action of the German Government in violating the neutrality of Belgium when France had assured us that she would respect it, the invasion of a small State whose neutrality and independence she and England had joined in guaranteeing, evoked in this country an almost unanimous sentiment that the faith of treaties and the safety of small States must be protected. There has been no war for more than a century—perhaps two centuries—into which the nation has entered with so general a belief that its action is justified. We rejoice to be assured that this is the general feeling of the people of the United States, whose opinion we naturally value more than we do that of any other people.
Most persons in this country, including all those who work for peace, agree with you in deploring the vast armaments which European States have been piling up, and will hope with you that after this war they may be reduced—and safely reduced—to slender dimensions. Their existence is a constant menace to peace. They foster that spirit of militarism which has brought these horrors on the world; for they create in the great countries of the Continent a large and powerful military and naval caste which lives for war, talks and writes incessantly of war, and glorifies war as a thing good in itself.