One serious economic result of this heavy taxation is that European industry is placed at a considerable disadvantage in competing with that of other nations, notably the United States of America.
Militarism Before World War I, featuring a series of essays published before the war. Our last essay is by Sir Max Waechter.
Previously in Militarism Before World War I. Now we continue.
Time: Early 20th. century
It is generally admitted that the present condition of Europe is highly unsatisfactory. To any close observer it must be evident that Europe, as a whole, is gradually losing its position in the world. Other nations which are rapidly coming to the front will, in course of time, displace the European, unless the latter can pull themselves together and abandon the vicious system which now handicaps them In the economic rivalry of nations.
The cause of this comparative decline is, in my opinion, to be found in the fact that all the European countries are arming against one another, either for defense, or for aggression, for the attack is frequently the best form of defense. The motive for these excessive armaments can clearly be found in the jealousy and mistrust existing among the nations of Europe. Europe is spending on armaments something like four hundred million pounds sterling per year, and there is a tendency to increase this tremendous expenditure. In order to bring the magnitude of this sacrifice more vividly before the reader, let us assume that a European war is not likely to occur more frequently than about every thirty years. We then find that the incredible sum of twelve thousand million pounds sterling has been spent in peace in preparation for this war, a sum which greatly exceeds the total of all the European state debts. Such stupendous sums can not be raised without imposing crushing taxation, and without neglecting the other duties of the state, such as education, scientific research, and social reform.
One serious economic result of this heavy taxation is that European industry is placed at a considerable disadvantage in competing with that of other nations, notably the United States of America. The late Mr. Atkinson, an American authority, declared that, compared with the United States, we were handicapped to the extent of five per cent, in our production. Since then the figures have changed considerably in favor of America. I recently had an opportunity of discussing this point with a great German authority on political economy, and he fixed the advantage in favor of the United States at nearly ten per cent, as regards the cost of production.
But this is not all. The European countries withdraw permanently four millions of men, at their best age, from productive work, thus causing a terrible loss and waste. Besides, enterprise in Europe is crippled by fear of war. It may break out at any time, possibly at a few hours’ notice. The present system of Europe must inevitably lead, sooner or later, to a European war — a catastrophe which nobody can contemplate without horror, considering the perfected means of destruction. Such a war would leave the vanquished utterly crushed, and the victor in such a state of exhaustion that any foreign Power could easily impose her will upon him.
The situation is certainly most alarming, and ought to receive the fullest attention. What, then, can be done to save Europe from these impending dangers? The large number of “Peace Societies” which have been established in different countries have done excellent spade work. Their main object has been to insure that disputes among nations should be referred to arbitration, with a view to making more difficult their resorting to arms. The great success of these societies demonstrates plainly that there is a strong tendency among the peoples in favor of peace. But no attempt has been made to reorganize the whole of Europe on a sound basis.
The Emperor of Russia has made a most praiseworthy effort to bring about a different state of affairs, by originating and establishing The Hague Conference, with a view to securing by this means the peace of the world. This conference has done excellent service, and is likely to be of increasing usefulness to mankind in the future; but the second meeting of the conference has amply proved that it can not succeed in its main object, which is the peace of the world. If the idea of bringing the whole world into unison can ever be realized, it is only by stages, of which the union of Europe would be the first.
Let us look at the position. Germany has been for centuries the battle-field of other states, and has narrowly escaped national annihilation. She has now at length succeeded in consolidating her strength so far as to be able to withstand attack from any probable combination of two of her powerful neighbors. Can Germany now be approached with a request to reduce her armaments, unless she is given the most solid guaranty against attack? It would be almost an insult to the German intelligence to make such a proposal without an adequate guaranty.
With France the case is similar. The third Republic has been eminently peaceful, and Frenchmen have devoted their energies and brilliant qualities principally to science, the fine arts, and social development. Who would dare to ask them to cut down their armaments in the present state of Europe, which makes it compulsory for every country to arm to the fullest extent? All the other states are in a similar position. They need not be discussed individually.
The only hope to be found is in such a coalition of the Powers as will make these excessive armaments unnecessary. If this can be effected, the reduction of armaments will take place naturally, and without any external pressure. But then the question arises, how can the permanency of such a coalition be guaranteed? The vital requisite to give stability to any international coalition is community of interests. Such a community of interests exists already, in a larger or smaller degree, among many states, though it is unknown to most people. Besides, it is not strong enough to prevent war in times of excitement.
In many countries definite war parties exist, and most extraordinary opinions can be gathered from their representatives. I was assured by some military leaders, and even by a diplomat in a responsible position, that war is a blessing! In disproof of this theory it may be desirable to state some plain facts. Mankind lives and exists on this earth solely and entirely by the exploitation of our planet, and the general average status of the peoples can be improved and raised to a higher level only by a more complete exploitation of the forces of nature. This process requires, in the present state of civilization, capital, intelligence, and manual labor — the handmaid of intelligence. War is bound to destroy an enormous amount of capital, and a great number of the ablest workers. It is evident, therefore, that every war must reduce the general well-being of the peoples who inhabit this planet. Besides, there is the misery inflicted upon millions of people, principally belonging to the poorer classes, who have always to bear the brunt of a war, whether it be started by the personal ambition of one man or by the misguided ambitions of a nation.
Some people argue that, from the days of Alexander the Great to those of Napoleon, combinations of states have always been brought about by armed force, and they believe this to be a natural law. I do not admit that the case of Napoleon is a proper illustration of such a law. On the contrary, his career seems to demonstrate clearly that the world is too far advanced to be driven into combination by force. And as to Alexander the Great, has the world really made no progress since his time? Force or war is a relic of a savage age, and will be relegated to the background with the advance of civilization.
This ends our series on Militarism Before World War I. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.