William T. Stead and his Peace Message

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William T. Stead and his Peace Message

James A. MacDonald, World Peace Foundation Pamphlet Series, No. 6 (Boston, July, 1912)

“We also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses!”

With that inspiring challenge the Hebrew Christians of the olden time were urged to more patient endurance and more steadfast endeavor. They were encouraged to regard their little lives as the observed of those unseen observers, the saints and heroes who crowd the galleries of Hebrew history. A vivid sense of that alert and interested audience nerved them to more heroic effort. In that radiant presence of the glorified dead even the least of the living Hebrews could run his race with patience, and the most faint-hearted could fight the good fight of faith.

And may not we also, we men of this later day and this western world, have like faith to believe that in this hour of wonder and mystery the shining silence round about us may be crammed with our triumphant dead? If that be true, if the spirits of our departed friends do indeed watch with interest the affairs of human life, then I dare to think that pressing into the forefront of those cohorts about us, “the unuttered, the unseen, the alive, the aware,” there is that rugged, strong, heroic soul whose purpose it was in this lower world to stand in this very place to-night and at this very hour to speak home to our hearts his message of “Universal Peace.”

W. T. Stead looked forward to this hour. In his heart there burned a message to this Congress of the Men and Religion Movement of America. It was his hope that from this place a line of power would go out into all the world. A whole lifetime of thought and effort and passionate pleading would have gathered itself up into one appeal for international good will and the world’s peace.

At the very moment when the “Titanic” struck the fatal iceberg, he was in his state-room eagerly at work on the address which he was crossing the Atlantic to speak to us this very hour. And now that his voice is beyond our hearing, and as I, his friend, stand in the place assigned to him, of this I am sure, that, could I catch his words, he would say, “Waste no time on me or on what I have done or tried to do, but speak, as I would have spoken, a straight, strong word for the cause into which I put the sweat of my life and the blood of my soul.”

William T. Stead was ordained a prophet of universal peace. For it and for its sake he faced the powers and potentates, he pleaded with kings and czars and emperors, he wrought with prime ministers and presidents and secretaries, he fought with the beasts of hate and greed in every Ephesus of the world, and for half a lifetime he en- dured the fierce contradiction of the fire-eating jingoes of every land. For peace he “was ever a fighter.” Had he been sure that by his tragic martyrdom these “two empires by the sea” would have been bound in a league of peace, on the deck of the sinking “Titanic” he would have held high that good gray head, and out of the horrors and darkness he would have greeted the unseen with a cheer.

Mr. Stead was one of my best friends in British journalism. Our paths crossed many times. We joined hands in more than one strug- gle for peace. His word was ever for national honor and international good will. In June last, my last day in London was spent in his home. The burden of his heart was the problem of listing the press of Britain and America in a resolute fight against the war syndicates that everywhere menace the peace of the world. Most of all did he long for the Anglo-American arbitration treaty, and he did his share in securing for it the support of British statesmen and of British public opinion. His very last word when I saw him the last time was, “Remember the English-speaking fraternity, and that in it Canada holds the key-position.”

What words Mr. Stead would have spoken, had he been here to- night, no man can say. Speech and speaker went down into the silence of the sea. But two things he might have done: he might have made us face the awful facts of war, and he might have heart- ened us with the confident evangel of peace.

The facts of war! What are they? And what is their meaning for us?

First of all there is the fact of war’s incurable folly. Between civilized nations, war never did settle the real question supposed to be at issue. No question is ever settled until it is settled not by might, but by right. Brute force is not the measure of right. The issues of right and wrong are moral issues. They are not settled rightly by armies and navies and the strategies of war. No one knew better than Stead knew that the problem of life in South Africa at issue between Briton and Boer was not settled at Magersfontein or at Mafeking or at Paardeburg. That problem began to be settled when the jingoes and exploiters and war fanatics on both sides were swept out of the way, and Boer and British sat down and reasoned together in the new Parliament of Peace. Questions of vital interest or of material honor never can be settled creditably to any civilized nation by the outgrown instruments of barbarism, even as questions of personal honor or of personal interest between civilized men can- not be settled justly or with dignity by fists and clubs.

A second fact which Mr. Stead might have made us face is the grow- ingly conspicuous fact of war’s intolerable burden. At a ratio simply appalling the resources of the nations are being absorbed by expendi- tures on armaments and by the interest on war debts. Were we capable of appreciating its enormity, we would be staggered by the fact that last year’s account for armies and navies for the civilized world reached $2,250,000,000, or by the fact that the ten chief mili- tary nations maintained in their armies 4,200,000 men at a net cost to the people of $295 per man, or by the fact that last year Great Britain expended on her army and navy $341,820,000, Germany very little less, Russia even more than Germany, and even a peace- ful people, like those of the United States, paid for their army and navy more than $283,000,000 in one year.

But there are other facts of war even more serious than its incurable folly or its intolerable burden. There is its irreparable loss. War debts are a burden, but the loss that has no gain to match is the wanton and uncompensated waste of the manhood of the nations. War’s financial burden is heavy, but war’s biological reaction is damage beyond repair. War wastes the hard-earned money of the people, but its waste of blood, its waste of human protoplasm, its waste not only of the lives of brave men who die, but its incalculable waste of whole generations of possible heroes who ought to have been, but are not, that waste is wild and prodigal, and never can be gathered up again.

Men talk long and loudly of war’s compensations. They argue that the nation makes progress through the survival of the fittest. Sir, in war the law of progress through selection and survival is reversed. The fittest do not survive. In the competitions of peace the weak, the cowardly, the unfit, go to the wall, but in the fierce testing of men on the march and on the battlefield it is the strong, the daring, the courageous, who fall. War’s insatiable call has ever been, “Send us the best ye breed.” None but the best, the virile, the self-sacrificing, will face the perils and endure the hardness for a great cause. The best go first. The best stand in the forefront. The best are first to fall. The fittest do not survive.

And, if nations rise by the survival of the fittest, so by the same inexorable law there comes national reaction and decay, when the fittest are destroyed and the parentage of the nation is left to the inferior and the unfit. The law works both ways. If it is a ladder by which the nation may climb to higher levels of physical fitness and moral character, by that same ladder the nation may sink to lower grades. If the science of eugenics means anything, it warns against the degeneration which results from the dominance of the defective, the cowardly and the self-seeking. And all history gives point and emphasis to that warning.

Many causes conspired to the decay and destruction of the nations of antiquity, but one abiding and persistent cause was the continual and relentless wars whose records make up almost all there is of ancient history. It was so with Assyria and Egypt, with Persia, with Greece and with Rome. In the days of Rome’s imperialism the Roman eagles flew over all the world and Roman law blazed the way for civilization. But the wars of the Caesars were the slaughter- time of Rome’s choicest sons. The Roman legions drew off the picked men of Roman citizenship. The strong, the daring, the heroic were foremost in the fight and soonest to fall. The con- scription gathered for the slaughter all the fit, and left behind only the weaklings, the stall-boys, the slaves to father the next genera- tion of Roman citizens. From that blood came not statesmen and generals and intrepid heroes, but, as history records, “fops and dandies.” There was a new Rome, a Rome in which the blood of old Roman mothers and of weak and coward fathers bred a race given over to luxury and the vices that destroy. The decline and fall of the empire was inevitable. Blood tells.

So with France. Nor even to this day has France recovered from the awful loss of her best blood in the Napoleonic wars. The best were taken from mid-life, then from old age, then from youth. “A boy can stop a bullet of the Russian as well as a man,” said Napoleon, and all the way to Moscow the flower of France was strewn and withered before it came to seed. In that loss France found no gain to match.

And what says the history of Britain? Every part of the United Kingdom tells the same story. From every parish the choicest sons, generation after generation, went out to war. Sons of the palace and sons of the manse, sons of the castle and sons of the cottage, out they went, the best the nation bred, and only the shattered remnants ever came back. Every village has its monument. In every great cathedral and in every parish church you may read in marble and brass the telltale lists of officers and men. Worse it was than the Egyptian sacrifice of the first-born, for war is no respecter of persons. What wonder that England has suffered loss! What wonder that the city slum fills up with the human dregs, and that through the vil- lages disease from the barracks and Indian camp life leaves behind the white-faced, the hopeless, the unfit!

The toll taken from Ireland and from Scotland was not less wasting than from England. Every valley, every moor, every hamlet, every mountain glen, they all sent of their best, and their best never came back. In the Highland shires and islands of Scotland the loss was perhaps worst and most wasteful of all. Life there was rugged and hard. The weaklings died in infancy, and through the survival of the fittest there was bred their race of kilted giants. The Union Jack flies over no spot of earth that matched with its soldiers the Isle of Skye. No regiments ever brought greater glory to the flag or died more daringly for its honor than did the Scottish regiments in the kilted tartan. But at what a price, not to themselves alone, but to Scotland! The tragedy of the Celts is in this sentence: “Forever they went out to battle and forever they fell.” The Grants stained the marble palaces of India vermilion with their blood and saved the honor of the race in the awful hour of the Mutiny, but few of their clan are left in “their ain dear glen.” The “Cameron’s Gathering,” that rose wild and high on the march to Waterloo, would summon few of the Highland host to-day through the snows of Lochaber. No Chisholms are left in Strathglen. The Mackenzies are few at Lochbroom. In the gloaming glens of the West Highlands is a silence deep as death, where once a thousand men would start up in a night at the call of Argyll. No Lord of the Isles who sleeps at lona could ever again gather a clan worthy his tartan, though he blew all night in the pibroch of Donald. From the days after Cul- loden on every battlefield where Saint George’s banners flew the Scot- tish war-pipes sounded shrill and clear, and the reddest blood of Scotland was poured out without stint. But at what a cost!

And the cost was not alone in the death of so many brave men who fell, but that those heroes in their youth and their prime left no breed behind. The heroic sires died with heroic sons unbred in their lives. It is the countless heroes who ought to have been, but are not, that never-ending phantom host who had no chance at life, had they taken the places left empty by the fall of their sires, the loss had not been so far beyond repair.

In vain does Kipling try to reconcile us to Britain’s irreparable loss by glorifying the lavish abandon of the sacrifices she made:

“We have strawed our best to the weed’s unrest,
To the shark and the sheering gull.
If blood be the price of Admiralty,
Lord God, we’ve paid in full.”

Paid in full! And the waste and burden of that toll is the nation’s tragedy to-day. The blood that went to sharks and gulls might have been the seed of the Greater Britain.

And what of these United States? What has been war’s loss to this Republic? Its financial burden is heavy enough. For a young and peaceful nation to spend more than sixty-seven per cent, of its entire annual federal revenue on armaments and war debts is surely an appalling situation. But what about your loss in manhood, in moral fiber, in genuine patriotism?

I put this question to you thoughtful Americans, as I put it to your President and to members of his Executive Council: How comes it that this young Republic, born for freedom, consecrated anew to government of the people, by the people and for the people, is at this moment threatened in the very citadel of its de- mocracy, and menaced not by foes from without, but by organized treason and selfishness and graft within? How comes it? Has it any relation to the fact that a generation and a half ago in your one great war more than 600,000 men of the North and more than 400,000 of the South, the youth and strength and hope of both North and South, died on the altar of heroic patriotism and left no breed behind? Perhaps the sacrifice was necessary, and perhaps not; but at what a price!

Dare you even yet face with open eyes the human loss in that one war? The loss to the North is beyond measure. Old men from Massachusetts weep when they recall the lads in their tens and twenties, the thousands of them, who marched out with them and never came back. To take the seasoned soldiers and the men past their prime were loss enough, but yours was the slaughter of the innocents in the bloom of their young manhood. And in them were slaughtered, too, the sons of their heroism who ought to have been with us to-day, but who never were born.

Why should men ask: Where are the hundred orators of Boston? Where are the successors of the patriots and statesmen, of the phi- losophers and poets, of the leaders of thought and men of vision who a generation ago shed the effulgence of New England over all the land? Where are they? The names of some of them are on the tablets in the Memorial Hall of Harvard University or on the other record tablets of your heroic dead, and an uncounted host who ought to have been here were never named at any baptismal font.

Not New England alone, but all the North, from Maine across Illinois to the Pacific, they came, “three hundred thousand more,” and they consecrated in your memories the names of the Potomac and of the James and of the Cumberland and of the Tennessee and of the Rio Grande.

And if the North paid her full measure of devotion, by that same overflowing measure also paid the South. If New England filled her measure with blood of the Puritan red, Virginia, in her chivalry, poured out a blood as noble as ever coursed in England’s veins, and North Carolina the blood she drew from the strong heart of the Scottish Highlands, and Kentucky her Scottish-Irish blood, and every other Southern State sent the best she bred.

The other day I stood on the road over which Sherman marched through North Carolina, leaving behind a trail, not only of sor- row and loss, but of bitterness, which a half -century has not eradicated. This was the proud, sad boast of those North Caro- linians, in whose veins is the blood of the Scottish Celt as untainted as my own: “With only 115,000 voters in the State, we sent 128,000 soldiers, the flower of our men and boys, into the war, and on the fateful day at Gettysburg North Carolina drove the wedge of gray farthest into the ranks of blue, and left more dead behind than any other Southern State had, all told, on the field.” A sad, proud boast, indeed; but who can measure that irreparable human loss!

And the full tale of your wages, North and South, was that, while your heroes and patriots fell in their youth, the bounty-jumpers and the skedaddlers, the self-seeking and the mercenary, the men who played politics with others’ lives and the men who made fortunes out of war business, they all lived and flourished and reproduced their ilk to breed your grafters and bosses and bloated plutocrats of to-day.*

But Mr. Stead would have done more than assail us with the staggering facts of war. He would also have heartened us with the confident tokens of peace. And what are the signs on the horizon that tell of the coming day?

For one thing there is not only death to that old notion of the Divine right of militarism, but there is also the turning of the search- light on the activities of private Special Interests whose dividends depend on the expenditures of public money for military and naval expansion. It was bad enough when men talked of war as “the sudden making of splendid names,” and the large opportunity for the promotion of subordinate officers. But it is infinitely worse, infinitely more sordid, infinitely more dangerous, when huge private corporations composed of stockholders influential in Parliament, in the press, and in social life, and commanding enormous wealth, rely for their business profits and their dividends almost wholly on gov- ernment contracts awarded for battleships, artillery, and armaments. An illuminating and significant statement was made in the ” Financial Survey” of the Toronto Globe last New Year’s day by Mr. F. W. Hirst, editor of the London Economist. That competent and capable critic and publicist, in explaining the alarming increase in the income tax and death duties in three years, said: “If our military and naval expenditure had remained stationary, I do not think either the in- come tax (which nearly trebled) or the death duties need have been higher now than they were in 1908; but that would not have suited the armor-plate press.”

“The armor-plate press!” There you have the ghastliest danger at this moment threatening Great Britain, the war nations of Europe the United States, and even Japan. Mr. Hirst says, commenting on “the seriousness of naval competition,” that in Britain alone “during the last three years our naval expenditure has risen by 12,000,000.’ But anything less “would not have suited the armor-plate press”!

But the note of hope is in the fact that the people are beginning to ask about the special interests and private syndicates back of the armor-plate press. In Britain there are six armament companies, rep- resenting in share and debenture capital 28,000,000, whose profits year by year would be wiped out by restriction in building of arma- ments by British or foreign governments. The lists of shareholders in three of those companies have been scrutinized, and are found to include names of an astonishing number of dukes, marquises, earls, barons, baronets, knights, members of Parliament, military and naval officers, financiers, journalists and newspaper proprietors. There you have the power behind “the armor-plate press.” Every noble order, every social influence, every effective agency of public discussion and of popular agitation, is seen to be directly and financially interested in keeping high the military and naval expenditures. And those expenditures are voted by Parliament under pressure. Back of that pressure are the “war scares” of the “armor-plate press.” And back of the “armor-plate press” are the armament syndicates. Russia is worse than Britain. Germany is no better. Are there no war syndicates with their “armor-plate press” in America? Are there no beginnings in Canada? We need another Stead to make us hate him for telling us the truth. When the ugly truth is out, the war scares will cease to terrify, and the full blood profits of the war syndicates will not be paid.

A second heartening sign in which Mr. Stead rejoiced is the new standard of values as between the interests of the people and the pomp and glory of war. Stead was as true an imperialist as Britain knew. His imperialism was all the truer because of his supreme devo- tion to the common people, to the down-trodden and the distressed. What hurt him most, what hurts us all, is that the waste on war makes impossible adequate expenditures on the betterment of life for millions of the people. But there is a new standard of values. It is coming to be seen even in Parliament and in the halls of trade that the disgrace of government is not in the absence of military glory, but in the existence of social evils, in the haggardness of common poverty for the old and the hopelessness of life for the young. But a new note is struck. It was struck ringingly not long ago by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer. The words of Lloyd George, that new hope of the world’s democracy, echoed round the world and quickened the pace of social progress. Here in this Congress, with the Union Jack of Britain on one side and the Stars and Stripes of

the United States on the other, these words of the British Chancellor smite and burn: “The stain on the national flag is just as deep if that flag floats over slum-bred children and ill-paid, ill-fed, ill-housed men and women as if it were to droop in defeat on the field of war.” When we men of America honor our two flags, when we twine them in token of English-speaking fraternity, let us also pledge ourselves to make these flags stand not for the waste and want of war, but for social justice, for social hope and for the redemption of life from the curse of Cain.

A third note of the morning of universal peace Stead found in the progress made by the idea of international arbitration. The most significant fact in international politics to-day is the fact not the theory or the ideal, but the fact of independent judicial arbitration as the recognized means of settling disputes between civilized peoples. War once was the rule: now war is the exception. Between the most highly civilized nations war is out of the question. Between nations of the Anglo-Saxon speech and tradition war is unthinkable. Arbi- tration already is the permanent fact between Britain and America. The treaty suggested by President Taft, responded to by Sir Edward Grey, upon which public opinion both in Britain and in America is more unanimous than on any other question, will yet be redeemed from the boggling and blundering of the United States Senate. Such a treaty will deliver the English-speaking world not only from the fact of war, but also from the fear of war. When that treaty, or one of even broader sweep, is made law for those two world powers, it will become law for France also. Japan will enter it. Germany will not long stay out. China, too, peaceful but most potential of them all, will keep with them the peace of the Orient. A sense of universal justice, with the nations “lapt in universal law,” will mean the universal peace of which Stead would have spoken and which Tennyson foresaw:

When the war-drum throbs no longer, and the battle-flags are furl'd 
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

Stead believed the “Federation of the world” was no mere poetic fancy. He saw it in vision. It was his dream. But, though the vision tarrieth, it shall not fail. Dream though it be, it is dreamed by those who make their dreams come true. Already there is a stir- ring and a movement among the nations. Those of like traditions and like ideals are coming together. Federation of sovereign States is going on. The German Zollverein has its world significance. Stead used to think that the American Republic presented to the world a model of the world organization of free States. He gloried in the ” liberty and union” of these United States. Here he saw an illustration of the “Federation of the world.” But, when I saw him, his eyes had swept an even wider circle. He saw not in the German Zollverein, not in this American Republic of sovereign States, but in his own British Empire, the truer and more meaningful suggestion of a world federation of free, sovereign, autonomous nations.

Sir, the British Empire is without precedent in history. It stands alone, unique, significant. It is not an empire of subject States. It is an alliance of free nations. Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the five self-governing overseas domin- ions of Britain, are each of them as free as the motherland itself. Each for itself makes its own laws, administers its own affairs, con- trols its own government, fixes its own tariffs and taxes against one another and against the world, and with absolute authority over its trade and commerce and immigration, asserts its freedom in Kipling’s words:

“The gates are mine to open,
As the gates are mine to close.”

And yet with all that freedom a freedom larger than is enjoyed by any State in this American Republic those overseas nations are bound inseparably about one central throne, swear allegiance to one sovereign king, and proudly float one common flag. President Taft spoke truly when he said that the bond which binds Canada to Britain is light and impalpable as air. Yes, light as the bonds of faith, impalpable as the ties of love, but stronger than cords of steel, surer than tariff or tax, and we who were bred overseas stand by the ancient home because we are sons of the blood and call her mother still.

That, sir, is the most marvelous thing, the unique, the unparalleled thing in world organization on the basis of peace and good-will. And, if that has been achieved, even greater things are possible. Possible is the English-speaking fraternity. Yes, the English-speaking fra- ternity! It is coming. In spirit it is here. These two flags, with their common colors, stand to-day for a common faith, a common purpose and a common life. On this continent these two flags float over an international boundary line, dividing sovereignty from sovereignty along 3,700 miles, but without a fort, without a battle- ship, without a gun, without a soldier on parade. Across that boun- dary line for a hundred years nation has not lifted up sword against nation. And who knows but before another hundred years are gone the example set by Britain and America on this continent will have been learned by Europe and by Asia? The nations are tired, tired and sick, of their own mad and barbarous folly. When they have seen with open eyes what has been done by two proud peoples on this continent, a thousand miles up a great river, a thousand miles along inland seas, a thousand miles across open prairie, a thousand miles over mountain ranges, and never a gun or a guard, when they have seen that unmatched witness to peace, they will hang the trumpet in the hall and study war no more.

And that day of universal peace is coming. It is nearer than many of us suppose. The crowding of the world nations into one world neighborhood makes it needful. The progress of civilization makes it possible. The triumph of Christianity makes it sure. It is brought nearer by every victory of intelligence over ignorance, of law over force, of love over hate. It is helped forward by every heroism of peace, by every sacrifice of self, by every martyrdom to the cause of liberty and truth. Democracy calls to it, for only in the day of peace can the people reign supreme. The Prince of Peace was first to blaze the way for good will to the world of men. And in His tram followed bravely the great prophet of the dawn, whose name we speak with reverence, William Thomas Stead, that soldier- saint, “who never turned his back, but marched breast forward,” whose going from the martyr-deck of the “Titanic” was not to the mournful dirge of the Dead March, but to the triumph song of the “Hallelujah Chorus.” He who meant to speak to us his word for universal peace entered gloriously the unseen holy, and is one more familiar face in that compassing cloud of witnesses whose radiant presence overshadows us to-night.