I have just this minute finished reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmermann Telegram, the volume in her trilogy that explores how America finally entered WWI. It is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read, and makes me realize how uninformed I have been. It has convinced me that it is not enough to take a principled stance against war. We need more.
President Wilson adamantly stayed out of the war for two years on the grounds that America had to remain uninvolved militarily in order to negotiate a peace between Germany and Britain. He believed that America’s entering the war would simply harden the implacable lines of disagreement. He did this despite the fact that by 1916 German troops bestrode Europe from the English Channel to the frontiers of Russia, and from the Baltic to the Black Seas, occupying Poland, Romania, Belgium, Alsace-Lorraine, and industrial France as far west as Reims. In addition, German allies, the Austria-Hungary empire, and Turkey held the Balkans from Italy to Greece, and from Baghdad to Jerusalem. German u-boats had sunk the Lusitania which was not a military ship with huge loss of life. Even when Germany announced that any ship, even of a neutral country, would be attacked by German u-boats,Wilson remained determined to keep America out of the war.
It was only when German u-boats sank three US military ships with massive loss of life, and shortly after that, when Wilson got incontrovertible evidence that Germany was negotiating with Mexico to join forces with Japan to invade the U.S. and take back Texas and Arizona that he – and the American public – decided that war was unavoidable. It was, Wilson said, democracy or dictatorship. It was a cause more important than peace.
I have no doubt that had I been alive then, I would have supported the war. I think that the evidence still supports the evaluation that Germany was set on world domination and the destruction of democratic governments in Britain and America.
But today I ask Wilson’s own anguished question: “For God’s sake, is there no other alternative!?”
I am convinced that a stance of pacifism is not enough. It might be moral. It is undoubtedly often courageous. Yes, we need to stop glorifying war. Yes, we need to stop using it as our weapon of choice when we feel threatened or outraged, even legitimately so. But pacifism by itself is not enough. It is not enough to say “never again.” By itself, it will not stop the almost unimaginable carnage wrought by modern warfare.
It is a hundred years since World War I began. It is even more imperative, for our sakes, not for God’s, that we commit ourselves to find and implement alternative solutions to our differences.
Far greater minds and hearts than mine have struggled with this question, and have paid a far higher price in the search for answers. The world is not going to be revolutionized by my search. But it is a small step. It is replacing a cozy innocence that belongs to childhood.