We know now clearly, as we knew before we ourselves were engaged in the War, that we are not enemies of the German people, and they are not our enemies. They did not originate, or desire, this hideous war, or wish that we should be drawn into it, and we are vaguely conscious that we are fighting their cause, as they will some day see it themselves, as well as our own. They themselves are in the grip of the same sinister power that has stretched its ugly talons out and drawn blood from us.
The War was begun by the military masters of Germany, who have proved themselves to be also the masters of Austria-Hungary. These men never regarded nations as peoples of men, women, and children of like blood and frame as themselves, for whom Governments existed and in whom Governments had their life. They regarded them merely as serviceable organizations, which they could, either by force or intrigue, bend or corrupt to their own purpose. They regarded the smaller States, particularly, and those peoples, who could be overwhelmed by force, as their natural tools and instruments of domination.
Their purpose had long been avowed. The statesmen of other nations, to whom that purpose was incredible, paid little attention, and regarded what the German professors expounded in their class-rooms and the German writers set forth to the world as the goal of German policy as rather the dream of minds detached from practical affairs and the preposterous private conceptions of Germany's destiny than the actual plans of responsible rulers. But the rulers of Germany knew all the while what concrete plans, what well-advanced intrigue, lay at the back of what professors and writers were saying, and were glad to go forward unmolested, filling the thrones of the Balkan States with German princes, putting German officers at the service of Turkey, developing plans of sedition and rebellion in India and Egypt, and setting their fires in Persia.
The demands made by Austria upon Serbia were a mere single step in the plan which compassed Europe and Asia from Berlin to Bagdad. They hoped that these demands might not arouse Europe, but they meant to press them, whether they did or not. For they thought themselves ready for the final issue of arms. Their plan was to throw a belt of German military power and political control across the very center of Europe and beyond the Mediterranean into the heart of Asia, and Austria-Hungary was to be as much their tool and pawn as Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, or the ponderous States of the East. Austria-Hungary, indeed, was to become a part of the Central German Empire, absorbed and dominated by the same forces and influences that originally cemented the German States themselves.
The dream had its heart at Berlin. It could have had its heart nowhere else. It rejected entirely the idea of the solidarity of race. The choice of peoples played no part at all in the contemplated binding together of the racial and political units, which could keep together only by force. And they actually carried the greater part of that amazing plan into execution.
Look how things stand. Austria, at their mercy, has acted, not upon its own initiative or upon the choice of its own people, but at Berlin's dictation ever since the War began. Its people now desire peace, but they cannot have it until leave is granted from Berlin. The so-called Central Powers are, in fact, but a single Power. Serbia is at its mercy should its hand be but for a moment freed; Bulgaria consented to its will; Rumania is overrun by the Turkish armies, which the Germans trained into serving Germany, and the guns of the German warships lying in the harbor at Constantinople remind the Turkish statesmen every day that they have no choice but to take their orders from Berlin.
From Hamburg to the Persian Gulf the net is spread. Is it not easy to understand the eagerness for peace that has been manifested by Berlin ever since the snare was set and sprung? "Peace, peace, peace" has been the talk of her Foreign Office for a year or more, not peace upon her own initiative, but upon the initiative of the nations over which she now deems herself to hold the advantage. A little of the talk has been public, but most of it has been private, through all sorts of channels. It has come to me in all sorts of guises, but never with the terms disclosed which the German Government would be willing to accept.
That Government has other valuable pawns in its hands besides those I have mentioned. It still holds a valuable part of France, though with a slowly relaxing grasp, and practically the whole of Belgium. Its armies press close on Russia and overrun Poland. It cannot go farther—it dare not go back. It wishes to close its bargain before it is too late and it has little left to offer for the pound of flesh it will demand. The military masters under whom Germany is bleeding see very clearly to what point fate has brought them: if they fall back or are forced back an inch, their power abroad and at home will fall to pieces. It is their power at home of which they are thinking now more than of their power abroad. It is that power which is trembling under their very feet.
Deep fear has entered their hearts. They have but one chance to perpetuate their military power, or even their controlling political influence. If they can secure peace now, with the immense advantage still in their hands, they will have justified themselves before the German people. They will have gained by force what they promised to gain by it—an immense expansion of German power and an immense enlargement of German industrial and commercial opportunities. Their prestige will be secure, and with their prestige their political power.
If they fail, their people will thrust them aside. A Government accountable to the people themselves will be set up in Germany, as has been the case in England, the United States, and France—in all great countries of modern times except Germany. If they succeed they are safe, and Germany and the world are undone. If they fail, Germany is saved and the world will be at peace. If they succeed, America will fall within the menace, and we, and all the rest of the world, must remain armed, as they will remain, and must make ready for the next step in their aggression. If they fail, the world may unite for peace and Germany may be of the union.
Do you not now understand the new intrigue for peace, and why the masters of Germany do not hesitate to use any agency that promises to effect their purpose, the deceit of nations? Their present particular aim is to deceive all those who, throughout the world, stand for the rights of peoples and the self-government of nations, for they see what immense strength the forces of justice and liberalism are gathering out of this war. They are employing Liberals in their enterprises. Let them once succeed, and these men, now their tools, will be ground to powder beneath the weight of the great military Empire; the Revolutionists of Russia will be cut off from all succour and the coöperation of Western Europe, and a counter-revolution will be fostered and supported; Germany herself will lose her chance of freedom, and all Europe will arm for the next final struggle.
The sinister intrigue is being no less actively conducted in this country than in Russia and in every country of Europe into which the agents and dupes of the Imperial German Government can get access. That Government has many spokesmen here, in places both high and low. They have learned discretion; they keep within the law. It is opinion they utter now, not sedition. They proclaim the liberal purposes of their masters, and they declare that this is a foreign war, which can touch America with no danger either to her lands or institutions. They set England at the center of the stage, and talk of her ambition to assert her economic dominion throughout the world. They appeal to our ancient tradition of isolation, and seek to undermine the Government with false professions of loyalty to its principles.
But they will make no headway. Falsehood betrays them in every accent. These facts are patent to all the world, and nowhere more plainly than in the United States, where we are accustomed to deal with facts, not sophistries; and the great fact that stands out above all the rest is that this is a peoples' war for freedom, justice and self-government among all the nations of the world, a war to make the world safe for the peoples who live upon it, the German people included, and that with us rests the choice to break through all these hypocrisies, the patent cheats and masks of brute force, and help set the world free, or else stand aside and let it be dominated through sheer weight of arms and the arbitrary choices of the self-constituted masters by the nation which can maintain the biggest armies, the most irresistible armaments, a power to which the world has afforded no parallel, in the face of which political freedom must wither and perish.
For us there was but one choice. We have made it, and woe be to that man, or that group of men, that seeks to stand in our way in this day of high resolution, when every principle we hold dearest is to be vindicated and made secure for the salvation of the nation. We are ready to plead at the bar of history, and our flag shall wear a new luster. Once more we shall make good with our lives and fortunes the great faith to which we are born, and a new glory shall shine in the face of our people.