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WHY WE ARE AT WAR
Why are we fighting Germany ? The brief answer is that ours is a war of self-defense. We did not wish to fight Germany. She made the attack upon us; not on our shores, but on our ships, our lives, our rights, our future. For two years and more we held to a neutrality that made us apologists for things which outraged man’s common sense of fair play and humanity. At each new offense—the invasion of Belgium, the killing of civilian Belgians, the attacks on Scarborough and other defenseless towns, the laying of mines in neutral waters, the fencing off of the seas—and on and on through the months we said: “This is war—archaic, uncivilized war, but war! All rules have been thrown away: all nobility; man has come down to the primitive brute. And while we can not justify we will not intervene. It is not our war.”
Then why are we in? Because we could not keep . out. The invasion of Belgium, which opened the war, led to the invasion of the United States by slow, steady, logical steps. Our sympathies evolved into a conviction of self-interest. Our love of fair play ripened into alarm at our own peril.
We talked in the language and in the spirit of good faith and sincerity, as honest men should talk, until we discovered that our talk was construed as
cowardice. And Mexico was called upon to invade us. We talked as men would talk who cared alone for peace and the advancement of their own material interests, until we discovered that we were thought to be a nation of mere money makers, devoid of all character—until, indeed, we were told that we could not walk the highways of the world without permission of a Prussian soldier; that our ships might not sail without wearing a striped uniform” of humiliation upon a narrow path of national subservience. We talked as men talk who hope for honest agreement, not for war, until we found that the treaty torn to pieces at Liège was but the symbol of a policy that made agreements worthless against a purpose that knew no word but success.
And so we came into this war for ourselves. It is a war to save America—to preserve self-respect, to justify our right to live as we have lived, not as some one else wishes us to live. In the name of freedom we challenge with ships and men, money, and an undaunted spirit, that word “Verboten” which Germany has written upon the sea and upon the land. For America is not the name of so much territory. It is a living spirit, born in travail, grown in the rough school of bitter experiences, a living spirit which has purpose and pride, and conscience—knows why it wishes to live and to what end, knows how it comes to be respected of the world, and hopes to retain that respect by living on with the light of Lincoln's love of man as its Old and New Testament. It is more precious that this America should live than that we Americans should live. And this America, as we now see, has been challenged from the first of this war by the strong arm of a power that has no sympathy with our purpose and will not hesitate to destroy us if the law that we respect, the rights that are to us sacred, or the spirit that we have, stand across her set will to make this world bow before her policies, backed by her organized and scientific military system. The world of Christ—a neglected but not a rejected Christ—has come again face to face with the world of Mahomet, who willed to win by force. With this background of history and in this sense, then, we fight Germany— Because of Belgium—invaded, outraged, enslaved, impoverished Belgium. We can not forget Liège, Louvain, and Cardinal Mercier. Translated into terms of American history, these names stand for Bunker Hill, Lexington, and Patrick Henry. Because of France—invaded, desecrated France, a million of whose heroic sons have died to save the land of Lafayette. Glorious golden France, the preserver of the arts, the land of noble spirit—the first land to follow our lead into republican liberty. Because of England—from whom came the laws, traditions, standards of life, and inherent love of liberty which we call Anglo-Saxon civilization. We defeated her once upon the land and once, upon the sea.” But Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and Canada are free because of what we did. And they are with us in the fight for the freedom of the seas.
Because of Russia—New Russia. She must not be overwhelmed now. Not now, surely, when she is just born into freedom. Her peasants must have their chance; they must go to school to Washington, to Jefferson, and to Lincoln until they know their way about in this new, strange world of government by the popular will. Because of other peoples, with their rising hope that the world may be freed from government by the soldier. We are fighting Germany because she sought to terrorize us and then to fool us. We could not believe that Germany would do what she said she would do upon the seas. We still hear the piteous cries of children coming up out of the sea where the Lusitania went down. And Germany has never asked forgiveness of the world. We saw the Sussea sunk, crowded with the sons and daughters of neutral nations. We saw ship after ship sent to the bottom—ships of mercy bound out of America for the Belgian starving; ships carrying the Red Cross and laden with the wounded of all nations; ships carrying food and clothing to friendly, harmless, terrorized peoples; ships flying the Stars and Stripes—sent to the bottom hundreds of miles from shore, manned by American seamen, murdered against all law, without warning. We believed Germany’s promise that she would respect the neutral flag and the rights of neutrals, and we held our anger and outrage in check. But now we see that she was holding us off with fair promises until she could build her huge fleet of submarines.” For when spring came she blew her promise into the air, just as at the beginning she had torn up that “scrap of paper.” Then we saw clearly that there was but one law for Germany—her will to rule. We are fighting Germany because she violated our confidence. Paid German spies filled our cities. Officials of her Government, received as the guests of this Nation, lived with us to bribe and terrorize, defying our law and the law of nations. We are fighting Germany because while we were yet her friends—the only great power that still held hands off—she sent the Zimmermann note,” calling to her aid Mexico, our southern neighbor, and hoping to lure Japan, our western neighbor, into war against this Nation of peace. The nation that would do these things proclaims the gospel that government has no conscience. And this doctrine can not live, or else democracy must die. For the nations of the world must keep faith. There can be no living for us in a world where the state has no conscience, no reverence for the things of the spirit, no respect for international law, no mercy for those who fall before its force. What an unordered world! Anarchy : The anarchy of rival wolf packs! We are fighting Germany because in this war feudalism" is making its last stand against on-coming