February 3, 2011
How Pacifism Led to the Great War -- and Could Lead Us into the Next OneBy Robert Morrison
When then-Sen. Barack Obama made a short video for the "peace caucus" delegates to the 2008 Iowa Caucuses, he captured the enthusiastic support of his party's pacifist wing. It was enough to propel him to the Democratic nomination. Hillary Clinton's ad -- showing a red telephone ringing at 3 a.m. -- only emphasized to party pacifists that Obama was their man.
And, of course, leading antiwar figures like George Soros heavily bankrolled MoveOn.org and other liberal media outlets -- all echoing the same pacifist line. Pacifism -- as the name implies -- ought to lead to peace. But it too often doesn't.
In one famous case, pacifism doubtless led the world into a cataclysm. In 1914, Great Britain was governed by the Liberal Party. Their leading statesman was Sir Edward Grey, the foreign secretary.
On June 28 of that fateful year, the heirs to the thrones of Austria-Hungary, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated. Serbian nationalists killed them in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo. All Europe staggered toward the abyss.
Great Britain might have stayed out of it if only Germany had not invaded Belgium. Both Germany and Britain had an eighty-year treaty to protect Belgian neutrality and territorial integrity. Sir Edward repeatedly issued statements calling upon "all parties" to honor their commitments. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany dismissed treaties as "mere scraps of paper" and gave his generals the go-ahead to attack France through Belgium. The infamous Schlieffen Plan required that "the last man on the [German] right will brush the Channel with his sleeve." That would be the English Channel.
Sir Edward never said openly and directly to Germany: If you violate Belgian neutrality, Britain will declare war on you. Why not?
G.K. Chesterton, the famed English writer, tells us why in his memoirs. Chesterton was well-connected in Liberal Party circles. He wrote the Liberals were indebted to Manchester millionaires for their party's campaign financing. Those Manchester millionaires were religious pacifists. They would not have tolerated any blunt, direct warning to Kaiser Wilhelm from Sir Edward Grey or from the Liberals' prime minister, H.H. Asquith.
To close this loop, however, it is necessary to show that the headstrong Kaiser would have been deterred by such an unambiguous warning. Fortunately, such evidence exists.
Sir John Wheeler-Bennett is the greatest of diplomatic historians of the interwar period of 1919-1939. In the summer of 1939, Sir John visited the ex-Kaiser at his exile home in Holland. There, on the eve of a second horrific conflagration, the deposed German emperor confirmed to this young British scholar that if he had only known that Britain would declare war, he would never have allowed his generals to invade Belgium!
Thus, we see how the entire world was dragged into the cataclysm of World War I -- with its 20 million dead. Out of what Winston Churchill called the world crisis was born Communism, Fascism, Nazism, Japanese Imperialism, and Arab nationalism. We can trace to World War I some of what we are seeing on the streets of Tripoli, Cairo, and Amman even today.
I was fortunate to have Sir John Wheeler-Bennett as my professor of diplomatic history at the University of Virginia. I have not forgotten his worldly wisdom. It was thus with the deepest misgivings that I watched as our unprepared president advanced from one dangerously naïve statement to another as he sought and won the presidency.
Mr. Obama's bowing to desert despots, his fawning speech in Cairo, his signing of an appeasing treaty with Russia -- within days of the exposure of a Russian spy ring! -- all of these communicate U.S. weakness and increase the danger to steadfast American allies -- like Israel and the newly free states of Eastern Europe.
Let us hope that President Obama pulls back from his party's pacifist majority in time.
There was never a real prospect that Britain would not fight if Germany violated its treaty on Belgium. But a clear, strong "shot across the bow" might have prevented the horror of the trenches.
Ronald Reagan said that "no war in my lifetime has taken place because America was too strong." He set about rebuilding our "hollowed-out" military and repairing the damage done by four years of the invertebrate Jimmy Carter.
President Obama is gutting our defenses and broadcasting his belief that America has been the obstacle to world peace -- until, that is, the Obama administration, bedecked with olive leaves and holding doves in its extended hands, was installed. No more hazardous mindset can be imagined. Peace through strength has ever been the safest of policies for this Great Republic.