Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Step Towards World Peace

Featuring William Howard Taft

Introduction on Taft’s Treaties
William Howard Taft is the only man in history who served as both President of United States and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This essay by him could have been written by his two great opponents in the 1912 elections, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. World War I was just around the corner; World War II a couple of decades in the future; the Cold War and the other wars further out still. The child-like faith in treaties such as this seems almost quaint now. Also sad. Would that this optimism have been justified by subsequent events. And now, William Howard Taft.

Time: 1912
Place: The White House

Later generations will doubtless note, as one of the main manifestations of our present age, its progress in international arbitration, in the substitution of justice for force as the means of deciding disputes between nations. On March 7, 1912, the United States Senate, after months of argument, finally agreed to ratify two arbitration treaties which President Taft had arranged with England and France. True, the Senate, before thus establishing the treaties, struck out their most far-reaching article, an agreement that every disagreement whatsoever should be referred to a Joint High Commission. Without this clause the treaties still leave a bare possibility of warfare over questions of "national honor" or "national policy"; but practically they put an end to war forever as between the United States and its two great historic rivals.

These two treaties were the last and most important of 154 such arbitration treaties arranged since the recent inauguration of the great World Peace movement. They are here described by President Taft himself in an article reprinted with his approval from the _Woman's Home Companion._ His work as a leader in the cause of peace is likely to be remembered as the most important of his administration. In 1913 his purpose was carried forward by William J. Bryan as the United States Secretary of State. Mr. Bryan evolved a general "Plan of Arbitration," which during the first year of its suggestion was adopted by thirty-one of the smaller nations to govern their dealings with the United States. Thus the strong promises international justice to the weak.

The development of the doctrine of international arbitration, considered from the standpoint of its ultimate benefits to the human race, is the most vital movement of modern times. In its relation to the well-being of the men and women of this and ensuing generations, it exceeds in importance the proper solution of various economic problems which are constant themes of legislative discussion or enactment. It is engaging the attention of many of the most enlightened minds of the civilized world. It derives impetus from the influence of churches, regardless of denominational differences. Societies of noble-minded women, organizations of worthy men, are giving their moral and material support to governmental agencies in their effort to eliminate, as causes of war, disputes which frequently have led to armed conflicts between nations.

The progress already made is a distinct step in the direction of a higher civilization. It gives hope in the distant future of the end of militarism, with its stupendous, crushing burdens upon the working population of the leading countries of the Old World, and foreshadows a decisive check to the tendency toward tremendous expenditures for military purposes in the western hemisphere. It presages at least partial disarmament by governments that have been, and still are, piling up enormous debts for posterity to liquidate, and insures to multitudes of men now involuntarily doing service in armies and navies employment in peaceful, productive pursuits.

Perhaps some wars have contributed to the uplift of organized society; more often the benefits were utterly eclipsed by the ruthless waste and slaughter and suffering that followed. The principle of justice to the weak as well as to the strong is prevailing to an extent heretofore unknown to history. Rules of conduct which govern men in their relations to one another are being applied in an ever-increasing degree to nations. The battle-field as a place of settlement of disputes is gradually yielding to arbitral courts of justice. The interests of the great masses are not being sacrificed, as in former times, to the selfishness, ambitions, and aggrandizement of sovereigns, or to the intrigues of statesmen unwilling to surrender their scepter of power. Religious wars happily are specters of a medieval or ancient past, and the Christian Church is laboring valiantly to fulfill its destiny of "Peace on earth."

If the United States has a mission, besides developing the principles of the brotherhood of man into a living, palpable force, it seems to me that it is to blaze the way to universal arbitration among the nations, and bring them into more complete amity than ever before existed. It is known to the world that we do not covet the territory of our neighbors, or seek the acquisition of lands on other continents. We are free of such foreign entanglements as frequently conduce to embarrassing complications, and the efforts we make in behalf of international peace can not be regarded with a suspicion of ulterior motives. The spirit of justice governs our relations with other countries, and therefore we are specially qualified to set a pace for the rest of the world.

The principle and scope of international arbitration, as exemplified in the treaties recently negotiated by the United States with Great Britain and France, should commend itself to the American people. These treaties go a step beyond any similar instruments which have received the sanction of the United States, or the two foreign Powers specified. They enlarge the field of arbitrable subjects embraced in the treaties ratified by the three governments in 1908. They lift into the realm of discussion and hearing, before some kind of a tribunal, many of the causes of war which have made history such a sickening chronicle of ravage and cruelty, bloodshed and desolation.

After years of patient endeavor by men of various nations, and despite many obstacles and discouragements, there has been established at The Hague a Permanent Court of Arbitration, to which contending governments may submit certain classes of controversies for adjudication. This court has already justified its creation and existence by the settlement of contentions which in other days led to disastrous wars, and even in this enlightened age might have precipitated serious ruptures. The United States Government, as represented by the National Administration, is ready to utilize this method of settling international disputes to a greater extent than ever before. That is, we are willing to refer to this tribunal, or a similar one, questions which heretofore have been left entirely to diplomatic negotiation.

Continued on Monday, August 4th.

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