“It is the greatest process of international conference and of international discussion ever conceived, and that is what we are trying to substitute for war. …In other words, the only way we can prevent the unspeakable thing from happening again is that the nations of the world should unite and put an irresistible force behind peace and order.” - Woodrow Wilson ’79

Mr. Hamilton Foley has performed a tour de force in preparing from the various messages and addresses of former President Woodrow Wilson dealing with the League of Nations a compilation in the form of one continuous general statement, made as though coming from Mr. Wilson himself. *

“Every word in this book,” he says, “is Mr. Wilson’s own word, and all are here used in explanation of that detail of the subjects in which he used them.”

Arranged in this way, the book presents very clearly Mr. Wilson’s views concerning the Treaty, and the foreword, written by Mr. Wilson himself, congratulates Mr. Foley upon the completion of a difficult piece of work, which he says is published with his entire approval. There is nothing new in the compilation, but it puts in a convenient form the various arguments made by Mr. Wilson in support of the Treaty and particularly of the Covenant of the League of Nations.

*Woodrow Wilson’s Case for the League of Nations. Compiled with his approval by Hamilton Foley. Princeton University Press : London : Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press. 1923 ; pp.  271 ; $1.75.

The Covenant

Read in this consecutive form, the whole ideal embodied in the Covenant appears very clearly. It shows in a striking way the ex-President’s academic viewpoint. He points out very truly that the Covenant “is an instrumentality for the maintenance of peace.” This is proposed to be accomplished by certain “tremendous arrangements” at the heart of the Covenant, whereby all the nations of the world, great and small, agree never to go to war without first having either submitted the matter in dispute to arbitration, in which case they promise absolutely to abide by the verdict, or if it is not agreed to submit to arbitration, by laying all the documents and other pertinent facts before the Council, and consenting that, after discussion, the Council shall publish all these facts so that the world shall know them and that it shall be allowed six months in which to consider the matter, and even at the end of that time, if the decision of the Council is not acceptable, a nation concerned in the dispute will not go to war within three months following the rendering of the decision. Even allowing no time for preliminaries, there are nine months of cooling off, nine months of discussion, of public discussion, between those who are disinterested, except in the maintenance of the peace of the world, when the influence of the public opinion of mankind is brought to bear upon the contest. Mr. Wilson points out that that is the central principle of some thirty treaties entered into between the United States and an equal number of other sovereign nations, all of which were confirmed by the United States Senate. He asks:

“If any member of the League breaks or ignores these promises with regard to arbitration and discussion, what happens? War? No, not war but something that will interest them and engage them very much more than war, something more tremendous than war.”

This tremendous thing is,

“An absolute isolation, a boycott! The boycott is automatic. There is no ‘if’ or ‘but’ about that in the Covenant. It is provided in the Covenant that any nation that disregards these solemn promises with regard to arbitration and discussion shall be thereby deemed ‘ipso facto’ to have committed an act of war against the other members of the League, and that there shall thereupon follow an absolute exclusion of that nation from communication of any kind with the members of the League.”

He accentuates what such a boycott would mean:

“It is the most complete boycott ever conceived in a public document; and I want to say with confident prediction that there will be no more fighting after that. There is not a nation that can stand that for six months.”

Here is the academic mind dealing with a paper remedy and assuming that it will be self-enforcing, without considering the human elements which enter into the execution of any such provision!

Article XVI of the League Covenant does provide that if any member of the League resort to war in disregard of its covenants under Articles XII, XIII, and XV, it shall ipso facto be deemed to have committed an act of war against the other members of the League, which thereby undertake immediately to apply the boycott. But the recent experience in dealing with the case between Italy and Greece shows how impossible it may be for any such provision to be applied automatically. There is, at the outset, the question as to what constitutes an act of war, - as to whether or not a member of the League has resorted to war in disregard of its covenants under Articles XII, XIII, and XV. There are countless questions which may arise before automatic operation may occur. It is safe to say that under very few conceivable circumstances would the economic boycott be automatically applied, or be applied at all, until the Council or the Assembly of the League had very fully discussed the case, and action had been agreed upon. Only where the violation of the provision by one nation met with no excuse or condonation by any of the other nations, members of the League, could the remedy be applied in the way in which Mr. Wilson has conceived it, as

“…This economic, peaceful, silent, deadly remedy…which ‘does not cost a life outside of the nation boycotted, but it brings a pressure upon that nation which, in my judgment, no modern nation could resist.”

Article X

Considerable attention is devoted to Article X. Mr. Wilson argues that there is nothing in that article to oblige the Congress of the United States to declare war if it does not deem it wise to do so. Nevertheless, he regards the provisions of that article, whereby the members of the League engage to respect and preserve against all external aggression, the territorial integrity and political independence of the nations concerned, as the very heart of the provisions to secure the peace of the world embodied in the Covenant. He argues that by guaranteeing the territorial integrity of a country, you do not mean that you guarantee it against invasion, but that

“you guarantee it against the invader staying there and keeping the spoils.”

With all due respect, this seems to be the veriest casuistry. An agreement to preserve territorial integrity as against external aggression is certainly not kept by waiting until an invader has violated that integrity and entered upon and wantonly despoiled the domain of one of the nations thus guaranteed and after all that inviting him to depart. Mr. Wilson argues:

“I have not impaired the territorial integrity of your back yard if I walk into it, but I very much impair it if I insist upon staying there and will not get out.”

That argument does not appear convincing as a method of demonstrating that by Article X the members of the League have not undertaken a serious responsibility.

The Monroe Doctrine

In dealing with the Monroe Doctrine, Mr. Wilson apparently does not appreciate the difference between the provisions embodied in Article XXI of the Covenant providing that nothing contained in it shall be deemed to affect the validity of international engagements,

“such as treaties of arbitration or regional understandings like the Monroe Doctrine for securing the maintenance of peace,”

And the meaning of the Monroe Doctrine or Monroe policy from the point of view, at all events, of the leaders of the Republican Party. To them the Monroe Doctrine is not a “regional understanding” or an international engagement. It is a policy of the United States government adopted by itself, for its own protection, and in its own national interest. Senator Root, and, more recently, Secretary Hughes have made this perfectly clear. Whatever objection may be furnished by other provisions of the treaty as constituting an impairment of the Monroe Doctrine, they certainly are not removed by transferring it from a declaration of national policy to an international engagement or a regional understanding, and in that form securing its recognition by other nations.

Advantages of the League

The ex-President is happier in the passages dealing with the broad scope of the League and in his enumeration (pages 128-130) of the things which the nations adhering to the Covenant undertake to do. We agree with him when he says:

“It becomes sheer nonsense to talk about a super-government being set up over the United States.”

And again, when he says:

“It is the greatest process of international conference and of international discussion ever conceived, and that is what we are trying to substitute for war. …In other words, the only way we can prevent the unspeakable thing from happening again is that the nations of the world should unite and put an irresistible force behind peace and order. There is only one conceivable way to do that, and that is by means of a League of Nations. ...If we want a League of Nations we just take this League of Nations because there is no conceivable way in which any other League of Nations is obtainable.”

Those who already favor the United States accepting membership in the League of Nations will be strengthened by a review of the arguments in its favor set forth in this book. If any person with an open mind shall read the closing chapters, particularly the one headed “Insurance against War,” he will find it difficult to answer the arguments there adduced.

“If the nations of the world will indeed and in truth accept this great Covenant of the League of Nations,” says Mr. Wilson, “and agree to put arbitration and discussion always first and war always last, I say that we have an immense insurance against war, and that is exactly what this great Covenant does.”

And again, and finally:

“The particular thing in the Covenant of the League of Nations is that every cause shall be deliberately exposed to the judgment of mankind.”

It is this fact which, in the last analysis, constitutes the great appeal of the League of Nations to those who believe in it, and a presentation of the arguments of the man who, more than any one person in the world, is responsible for the formulation into a practical working organization of one of the greatest of human ideals, is worthy of the careful consideration of all lovers of international peace and justice.

This was originally published in the November 14, 1923 issue of PAW.