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THE TASK AT PARIS
TT looks as if a large number of Americans
I were thoroughly frightened at what a world war can do to the world. Curiously enough this state of fear seems to exist among those who not only were heart and soul for the war themselves, but were convinced that they were a little more heart and soul for it than anyone else. They expected better of this war, and they are really rather disappointed at the way things are working themselves out. They had anticipated, that once the Hun was licked, the world would automatically return, if not to righteousness, at least to something rather like what it enjoyed in the days when the Kaiser was still flattering millionaires and professors. Instead they discover Mr. Wilson engaged in making a peace that to them passeth all understanding; instead of the comfort of having won and letting the other fellow worry, it seems to be the victors who have to
perform the extremely complicated and unmistakably dangerous task of setting the earth to rights. The old idea that to the victor belong the spoils, has turned into the victor's duty of listening to everybody's troubles. Not only that. His duties do not end with listening, but do actually involve a mass of responsibility for the future of which it is fair to say most Americans had no notion when they entered the war. They did not suppose that so many things would be irrevocably changed. “War measures ”the vast interruptions necessary to the fight, they endured without murmuring, but now they would like to resume.
It becomes clearer every day that the war was not an interruption which will end with the end of the war. For the plain fact is that international relations as they existed in 1914 were almost completely determined by the military imperialisms of which Prussia was the chief. And until we master the fact that the empires of Hohenzollern, Hapsburg, Sultan and Czar were the foundations of law and order in Europe before 1914, we shall not understand either the meaning of their destruction, or the conse
quences of our own victories. They were the basis of " peace,” such as it was, and of normal conditions, as men suffered them. Only America seemed to lie outside the orbit of their influence, and this proved in the end to be a delusion. The ambitions, intrigues, necessities, and tyrannies of those empires were the point of reference for all the world. They set the pace in armaments. Those towering systems of power necessitated the building of another system of power to balance them. The character of the competition they created in the backward portions of the globe stimulated an imitative competition. It did not matter who liked their game or hated it. They made the game, and reluctantly or otherwise the game was played.
From Prussian Germany came the example of how to modernize and make a success of ideas at which this generation was inclined to jeer. She was not the first of the imperial depotisms, nor altogether unique either in manners or morals. Where her peculiar danger lay was that in all the others there had arisen controlling popular forces, or, as in Russia, the administration of tyranny was collapsing through sheer incompe
tence. But Prussia was competent, and because of that competence she threatened to erect a dazzling modern triumph out of ideas which lingered only fitfully in the dusty corners of stale chancelleries. She came uncomfortably close not only to making her will the law of three continents, but to making her ideas the pattern of conventional human thought. She almost demonstrated how tyranny could be made successful and on a world-wide scale.
Her downfall brought down with it the hopes of those feebler empires which existed as competitors or vassals or imitators, and made a mockery of those empires which existed in the dreams and propaganda of hopeful jingoes. "Europe," as it presented itself to the old-school diplomat, is gone. The continent is still there, most of the population is still there, to be sure, but Europe as a diplomatic system is hopelessly gone. Its organization from the Rhine to the Pacific, from the North Sea to the Moslem world is broken, and all the subsidiary organizations which leaned upon it, and against it, are suspended on nothing. Only small groups of farseeing men have comprehended even partially