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nations are compelled to recognize the rules of law and of morals, then and then only will democracy be safe. To this great conflict for human rights and human liberty America has committed herself. There can be no backward step. There must be either humiliating and degrading submission or terrible defeat or glorious victory. It was no human will that brought us to this pass. It was not the President. It was not Congress. It was not the press. It was not any political party. It was not any section or part of our people. It was that in the providence of God the mighty forces that determine the destinies of mankind beyond the control of human purpose have brought to us the time, the occasion, the necessity, that this peaceful people so long enjoying the blessings of liberty and justice for which their fathers fought and sacrificed shall again gird themselves for conflict, and with all the forces of manhood nurtured and strengthened by liberty offer again the sacrifice of possessions and of life itself, that this nation may still be free, that the mission of American democracy shall not have failed, that the world shall be free.
WHAT DEMOCRACY MEANS
[ADDRESS BEFORE THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR DELIVERED AT BUFFALO, NEW YORK, Nov. 12, 1917]
I esteem it a great privilege and a real honor to be thus admitted to your public councils. When your executive committee paid me the compliment of inviting me here I gladly accepted the invitation because it seems to me that this above all other times in our history is the time for common counsel, for the drawing not only of the energies but of the minds of the nation together. o
I thought that it was a welcome opportunity for disclosing to you some of the thoughts that have been gathering in my mind during the last momentous months.
I am introduced to you as the president of the United States, and yet I would be pleased if you would put the thought of the office into the background and regard me as one of your fellow citizens who has come here to speak not the words of authority but the words of counsel, the words which men should speak to one another who wish to be frank in a moment more critical perhaps than the history of the world has ever yet known, a moment when it is every man’s duty to forget himself, to forget his own interests, to fill himself with the nobility of a great national and world conception and act upon a new platform elevated above the ordinary affairs of life, elevated to where men have views of the long destiny of mankind. I think that in order to realize just what this moment of counsel is, it is very desirable that we should remind ourselves just how this war came about and just what it is for. You can explain most wars very simply, but the explanation of this is not so simple. Its roots run deep into all the obscure soils of history, and in my view this is the last decisive issue between the old principles of power and the new principles of freedom. The war was started by Germany. Her authorities deny that they started it. But I am willing to let the statement I have just made await the verdict of history. And the thing that needs to be explained is why Germany started the war. Remember what the position of Germany in the world was—as enviable a position as any nation has ever occupied. The whole world stood at admiration of her wonderful intellectual and material achievements, and all the intellectual men of the world went to school to her. As a university man I have been surrounded by men trained in Germany, men who had resorted to Germany because nowhere else could they get such thorough and searching training, particularly in the principles of science and the principles that underlie modern material achievements. Her men of science had made her industries perhaps the most competent industries in the world, and the label, “Made in Germany,’’ was a guarantee of good workmanship and of sound material. She had access to all the markets of the world, and every other man who traded in those markets feared Germany because of her effective and almost irresistible competition. She had a place in the sun. Why was she not satisfied ? What more did she want? There was nothing in the world of peace that she did not already have and have in abundance. We boast of the extraordinary pace of American advancement. We show with pride the statistics of the increase of our industries and of the population of our cities. Well, those statistics did not match the recent statistics of Germany. Her old cities took on youth, grew faster than any American city ever grew; her old industries opened their eyes and saw a new world and went out for its conquest; and yet the authorities of Germany were not satisfied. You have one part of the answer to the question why she was not satisfied in her methods of competition. There is no important industry in Germany upon which the government has not laid its hands to direct it, and when necessity arise, control it. You have only to ask any man whom you meet, who is familiar with the conditions that prevailed before the war in the matter of international competition, to find out the methods of competition which the German manufacturers and exporters used under the patronage and support of the government of Germany." You will find that they were the same sorts of competition that we have tried to prevent by law within our own borders. If they could not sell their goods cheaper than we could sell ours at a profit to themselves, they could get a subsidy from the government which made it possible to sell them cheaper anyhow, and the conditions of competition were thus controlled in large measure by the German government itself. But that did not satisfy the German government. All the while there was lying behind its thought, in its dreams of the future, a political control which would enable it in the long run to dominate the labor and the industry of the world. They were not content with success by superior achievement; they wanted success by authority. I suppose few of you have thought much about the Berlin to Bagdad railway.” The Berlin to Bagdad railway was constructed in order to run the threat of force down the flank of the industrial undertakings of half a dozen other countries, so that when German competition came in it would not be resisted too far —because there was always the possibility of getting German armies into the heart of that country quicker than any other armies could be got there. Look at the map of Europe now. Germany, in thrusting upon us again and again the discussion of peace talks about what? Talks about Belgium, talks about northern France, talks about Alsace-Lorraine. Those are deeply interesting subjects to us and to them, but they are not talking about the heart of the matter.