Public opinion for peace: tactics of peace activists at the Washington Conference on Naval Armament (1921-1922).
This article explores how informed peace activists at the time of the Washington Conference on the Limitation of Naval Armament (November 1921-February 1922) modeled many of the key features of successful public advocacy. Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Great Britain lauded the Washington Conference as "one of the greatest achievements for peace that has ever been registered in the history of the world." In brief, the Washington Conference, which began on 11 November 1921, effected a Four Power Treaty, signed on 13 December 1921, and a Five Power Treaty, concluded on 6 February 1922. In the Four Power Treaty, the United States, Japan, France, and Britain agreed to respect each other's rights in the Pacific region and to arrange for consultation in the event of disputes. The Five Power Treaty assigned ratios for battleship and aircraft carrier tonnage to be set at 5 for Britain and the United States (525,000 tons for battleships and 135,000 for aircraft carriers), Japan a ratio of 3 (battleships, 272,000; carriers 81,000) and Italy and France set at 1.67 with 75,000 and 60,000 tons of battleships and carriers allowed. "It was believed," notes Ferrell, "that Japan, so long as she had an inferior naval ratio, could safely be allowed mastery of the far Pacific, and the peaceful behavior of Tokyo governments for the remainder of the 1920's seemed to confirm the wisdom of this decision."(3) In effect, Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes's bold offer in November 1921 to sink over 800,000 tons of American capital ships and head off both Anglo-American and American-Japanese naval arms races in the Pacific ranks as one of the best examples of an innovative and forward-looking American diplomacy. The Washington Naval Conference successfully brought Japan into the international world order for a decade. It took the hammer blows of a global depression and the rise of Fascism to undo this system of treaties and consultations.
Yet this bold example of arms reduction drew strength from a well-informed and articulate domestic consensus. In the forefront, wrote historian Robert Dallek, was "a handful of clergymen, women, attorneys, intellectuals and political radicals" who "remained true to their vision of a just and peaceful world under law."(4) The Washington Conference thus serves as an example of how enlightened peace activists can successfully bring pressure to bear upon foreign policy. First, however, it is necessary to spell out a caveat on the nature of public opinion and diplomacy. It should be mentioned that national leaders and decision makers are typically loath to admit the influences of public pressure on their policymaking. There is, as Melvin Small explains in Johnson, Nixon and the Doves, "the reluctance of decision makers to explain their foreign policies in terms of public pressures, unless they are looking for scapegoats."(5) In the Vietnam era, administrators as different as Clark Clifford and Walter Rostow claimed to be isolated from public pressures. On the other hand, claims Small, Dean Rusk and McGeorge Bundy saw it as very important:
Bundy remembers many long conversations with President Johnson about opinion. Rusk explains that foreign-policy makers are like airline pilots, checking a variety of factors before takeoff, with opinion always important.... One lone picketer in Lafayette Park might arouse Nixon to a frenzy, and Johnson's day could be ruined because of a phrase in a report from an Associated Press correspondent.(6)
Public opinion matters. Exactly how it shapes specific policies and influences key texts in a treaty is very hard to measure.(7) James N. Rosenau wrote the definitive word on the subject in Public Opinion and Foreign Policy:
We cannot observe the influences that underlie the formulation of public opinion and its effect upon public policy: we can only observe behavior and infer therefrom which influences are operative.... The most one can do is to examine the behavior which appears to a function of the opinion-policy relationship, and then to deduce from that behavior those factors which seem to have been responsible for the influence in question.(8)
Small's conclusion that "those who exercise their rights as citizens to gather, protest and petition have more of an impact on their leaders than one would expect," rings true.(9) In the period 1921-1922, the opportunity afforded the peace movement was rare. The tactical opening came only after an unusual constellation of events had coalesced in Congress and across the country. It is necessary to review these events for they helped set the stage for successful peace activism at the Washington Conference.
The Washington Conference was triggered by three key factors in the post-World War I period. The first was the erosion of once-dominant Western hegemony in the Far East after 1918. Japan, in fact, had been exercising de facto control in that region for some time, a transition expedited by the decline of British and Dutch influence during the world war.(10) Americans had traditionally been interested in China for hope of commercial gain (the elusive "China market") and as a target for Christian missions. Yet American policymakers were not committed to military intervention in the Western Pacific. Indeed, in 1919 the United States had no fortified base west of Hawaii, though Guam and the Philippines were American protectorates. This meant that Washington planners would follow events in the Western Pacific with great interest but were nervous about military options.
A second factor, one that made the conference virtually imperative for the United States, was the fact that Britain and Japan were considering renewing the Anglo-Japanese Naval Alliance of 1902. This naval pact had worried American diplomats since the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. A renewal of such an alliance--set for July 1921--would coalesce the mist of suspicion rapidly falling upon American-Japanese and Anglo-American relations. The State Department knew of a secret protocol between Japan and Great Britain whereby London had agreed to support Japan's claim to her newly mandated islands awarded by the League of Nations in exchange for continuing British influence in the Far Pacific.(11) All of this threatened America's links to her Pacific protectorates. Worse, the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, plus the war-time alliance Britain maintained with France and Italy, would present the United States with overwhelming preponderance against her at sea. Another complication was historic Anglo-American irritation over Belligerent Rights at sea, dating as far back as the War of 1812. This was compounded by jockeying between Washington and Whitehall for strategic advantage in the control of world cable communications and the search to secure fuel oil for battleships.
The third factor was the most volatile of all. Knowing that naval supremacy tied directly to international trade issues, the United States threatened to play its trump card--the booming U.S. economy. American naval spending had leaped from $155,029,000 in fiscal year 1915-1916 to $1,268,000,000 in fiscal year 1917-1918--a wartime budget bonanza for the U.S. Navy. At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson had demanded a firm British commitment to "freedom of the seas" in exchange for a U.S. curtailment of naval expenditures. Now, in 1920, the U.S. was in a giddy "big navy" mood and, as the world's leading creditor, had the financial clout to steam full speed ahead. In the fall of 1919, a worried British government dispatched Sir Edward Grey to Washington to discuss naval limitations. The British knew that the American and Japanese governments had capital ships on the drawing boards all larger than the recently launched H.M.S. Hood, pride of the Royal Navy. In the New York Times of 12 December 1920, Viscount Ishii of Japan was quoted as saying that in the face of American "big navy" planners, Tokyo could never consider reducing its naval armaments.(12)
Thus, a classic arms race was looming among the victorious powers of World War I. The incoming American president, Warren G. Harding, was quoted favorably in the New York Times on I January 1921 as being a "big navy" man, as was his Secretary of the Navy. The American public was being massaged to support an expensive naval race hitherto unprecedented on a peacetime scale. The month before, in Great Britain, Lloyd George urged the British cabinet to spend 82,000,000 pounds over a five-year period for four "Super-Hoods" of 48,000 tons each. Countervailing forces were at work, however, through 1921. At the Imperial Conference of 20 June-5 August 1920, the Canadian prime minister felt it more desirable to appease the United States than to provoke her. Nor could London's Treasury afford this bold new buildup.(13) The worm had turned. Just as the Imperial Conference was expiring, an invitation arrived from Secretary of State Hughes "for a conference on the subject of limitation of armaments, in connection with which Pacific and Far Eastern questions will also be discussed."(14)
What had made American planners change course so abruptly? Undoubtedly it was the same factor that created a strategic opening for peace activism. By 1921, post-war disillusionment with power politics had not run its course in the United States. Part of it now spilled over into a revolt against big navalism in Congress. This move was spearheaded by Senator William E. Borah of Idaho, an effective lobbyist with close ties to the Christian establishment and the peace churches. As Roger Dingman summarizes, shifting policy currents within the three major naval capitals led to what would be "the first strategic arms limitation in modern times."(15) The Washington Conference was set for 12 November 1921 to 6 February 1922. Ineluctably, but fortuitously, space had been created for the peace movement and for Christian leaders to come to the fore.
Foremost among peace activists in this period was a former Congregational minister from Maine, Frederick J. Libby. Libby and his close associates, Florence Brewer Boeckel and Christina Merriman, were devout Christians but pragmatic. They did not believe in "peace through incantation." Indeed Libby and Boeckel were astute enough to spot the weaknesses and sometime excesses of the diverse, church-based peace movement of which they were a part. They had noted the limited effectiveness of "in house" religious terminology for influencing both the general public and the foreign policy establishment. Florence Brewer Boeckel early showed her grasp of the need for pacifists, even Christian pacifists, to get practical:
The peace movement has apparently escaped from the red-herring theory that human nature is what needs to be changed and has definitely turned its attention upon governments as the agency responsible for wars.... The World War.... clearly revealed that there is a distinction between those who control the government and the people as a whole.(16)
Libby, the son of a Maine country doctor and a Bowdoin College graduate at age nineteen, was to be the catalyst in helping turn America's growing antiwar sentiment into "public opinion for peace."(17) Described as an "intellectual adventurer" with a "clear view of real problems and real world solutions,"(18) Libby had come to peace work after studies at Oxford. He had joined the Friends Service Committee during World War I. His own journey to peace and disarmament led through the brutal route of direct experience. His farewell to arms was underlined in a letter he wrote back to his parents from Europe on 19 February 1919:
We happened upon several bodies that had been overlooked. There sprawled the remains of husbands, fathers ... sons, sodden bodies rotting in the sun. The roots of my pacifism sank deep into that rich earth.(19)
George Peter Marabell comments on the pre-World War I Libby:
Unlike the reformers and liberal intellectuals such as John Dewey who had accepted (President Woodrow) Wilson's lofty rhetoric, Libby had no illusions about reality of war. He was not persuaded by Wilson that the war was a positive good or that its outcome would mean security or the realization of idealism.(20)
Here was a peace activist, then, with a strong streak of realism, a direct experience of war, and connections to the traditional "peace churches." As a member of the Friends Disarmament Council, Libby--though a Presbyterian--was chosen to represent the Quakers at a Philadelphia meeting on 21 September 1921. There, diverse church groups had joined forces to plan strategy for the imminent Washington Conference. Peace workers sensed that the "popular revolt against navalism" was being sustained by post-war weariness with high taxes and the outrage at the spectre of skyrocketing military spending after the all-out efforts on the Western front.(21) Congressional leaders tied to Borah had been calling for some form of arms control since December 1920. A strategic opening was being created, one which Libby wanted Christian peace workers to exploit.
Libby was appointed executive secretary for the National Council for the Limitation of Armaments (later changed to The National Council for the Prevention of War and hereafter referred to as The National Council). Prominent peace organizer Christina Merriman functioned as acting chairman. Earlier, while working with the Friends Disarmament Council, Libby had been tantalized by a vision of a broad front against armaments:
The grass roots are naturally against war. Then why do we not get together--the farmers, the churches, the organized women, the labor unions, the educators--to prevent America from being drawn into another war? The peace societies had shown that they were not strong enough. But if all of the grass-root organizations that are against war got together they would be irresistible.(22)
As early as 9 September 1921, Libby had been reaching out to such para-church groups as the YMCA, the Congress of Women, the National Catholic Welfare Council, and to Friends' organizers in Japan and Great Britain.(23) These initiatives had emboldened yet another group, the Women's International League for Peace, to urge their entire membership to telegram President Harding to recommend "rapid, radical reductions" in army and navy appropriations. By the fall of 1921, Libby was ready to move into high gear and in so doing revealed a flair for publicity and an ability to reach the American mainstream. This was a time just before "managed news," "pseudo-events," and publicity culture was so pervasive. Libby's media initiatives--though reflecting a tradition common to Progressive America and tracing even to the abolitionists and the days of Tom Paine--were calculated to stir the peace forces and hold the public spotlight. In October 1921, Libby began issuing a series of pamphlets titled "Lightning Flashes on Disarmament Work." These circulars reviewed successes and showed how churches, educators, and community leaders could further combine forces to create a broad-based coalition for disarmament. He was clear and specific:
* Peace workers had already requested the Superintendent of Education in each state in the union to have exercises on disarmament in every school under their jurisdiction.
* The National Council had drafted eighty men and women as speakers and lecturers and supplied them with an outline of an address on the benefits of arms limitation.
* 5000 copies of the well-known peace tract "The Next War" had been issued to prominent individuals; 7000 letter cards had been sent; 1000 posters entitled "The Church and a Warless World" were mailed.
* The Executive Secretary himself was recorded as speaking at 14 meetings and assisting in the organization of several community movements, one of which he claimed represented 500,000 people.(24)
This was peace activism with punch. From the beginning, the National Council aimed for a coherent strategy, one that would reflect ecumenicism, breadth of vision, and commitment to the long haul. Libby's goal was to organize the "forces of peace" in order to counter the "forces of war," i.e. the military and armament industries. In essence, Libby and his colleagues viewed the National Council as an umbrella organization to more effectively coordinate the most influential and articulate peace activists. In this way they could have maximum impact across the entire spectrum of the peace movement and, through them, the nation itself. The churches, the YMCA, the schools, women's movements both secular and religious were now being mobilized. The ball was rolling.
Peace activism in 1921-1922 thus represented a quantum leap in ideological and tactical sophistication over what had gone before. The achievement is heralded by diplomatic historian Robert Dallek:
Reflecting mass guilt about American participation in the war, a widespread desire for reduced military spending, fear of another conflict ... peace advocates crystallized and vocalized general sentiment in the country against armaments and ... continued to push for broad moral goals that could serve all mankind. What apparently set them off from other reformers was the fact that they were chiefly middle-class urban dwellers with rural or small-town roots. They were as comfortable in great cities as they were in the countryside....(25)
This initial burst of energy designed to harness "intelligent public opinion for peace" did not go unopposed. Secular America still smarted at the fundamentalist upsurge that had passed the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors" on 17 January 1920.(26) Thus, the 4-5 October 1921 issue of the Philadelphia Public Ledger attacked the National Council lobby as a "well-intentioned but super-sentimental and emotional" group. They were denigrated as "busy bodies" interested only in making a "sideshow" at the Washington Conference. "Blessed are the persecuted," was Libby's rejoinder. Christina Merriman seized the occasion to turn lemons into lemonade. She wrote Secretary of State Hughes a tactful note to clarify the goals and objectives of the National Council.
I can assure you that we are approaching this Conference with a fun realization of the delicate and difficult negotiations involved particularly in the Far Eastern problem and instead of any super sentimental and emotional efforts to stampede the Conference into action it may well be that we shall be in a position to check unwise and ill considered action on the part of some of the more radical organizations which might prove extremely embarrassing at critical times ... I am enclosing for your information a copy of the purpose of the very brief platform adopted at the first meeting of the Council....
The Hughes response obliquely saluted the elan and effectiveness with which Libby's National Council had sprung into action:
You may be assured that the State Department welcomes the aid of public spirited citizens in furthering the objects of the Conference.... I am naturally anxious that the American people should place confidence in the American delegation and that those who are most interested in the objects to be attained will permit us to perform our important work without unnecessary embarrassment. It is quite clear from your letter that you share this view.(27)
If Merriman had shown alacrity and fortitude in taking her case directly to the foreign policy establishment, Libby showed astuteness in dissuading Merriman from releasing the secretary's letter to the press. National Council files of 15 October 1921 set forth a friendly but frank exchange of views between Libby and Merriman on this matter. In the end, Libby's tactical sense prevailed. He was careful not to embarrass the secretary of state at this sensitive time in the preparations for the conference. Libby thus showed a sensitivity to the channels of power that matched his media savvy. Merriman, too, in her letter to the Public Ledger reflected a balance and realism that would characterize the work of the National Council. Merriman noted how the peace activists had been accused of a utopian agenda: "to let the Conference understand morning, noon and night that it is here to achieve the millennium and that nothing short of this result can and will be tolerated."
Merriman responded to this canard with words that gave the lie to claims that she and Libby were pious sentimentalists. "We realize fully," she asserted, "that given present conditions the Conference will be doing well if it results [even] in a successful beginning" towards arms limitation. She pledged that she and her fellow peace workers were aiming to give "intelligent direction" to deter "some of the more radical minded from ill-timed and emotional outbursts."(28)
This intellectual integrity and public-spiritedness would be a hallmark of the National Council's style of peace advocacy. In aiming his appeal at the vital political center of American life, Libby had early cautioned his zealous sectarian allies against overreaching themselves. On 19 October 1921, Libby had asserted that there could be no "capturing of this movement by Labor or the women or the Friends or anybody else." In his view "the cause will come first ... and group-advantage will be forgotten."(29)
The contrast here with the fractiousness and waywardness of later peace activists is striking. Popular culture watcher Todd Gitlin has lamented how those actively involved in the peace movement of the 1960s allowed themselves to be "red-baited" by the national media.(30) DeBenedetti and Chatfield cite an incident where an "ordinary New Yorker" joined an antiwar march on 6 August 1966. At first the new recruit felt as "one of the saved going off to judgement day" as the protest wound down Fifth Avenue. Soon, though, she became so distressed by the chants, diatribes, and obscenities of the protestors that she found herself quietly boarding a bus and heading home, "disturbed by the war and distressed with demonstrations. There was no way for her to relate to them."(31) Libby's National Council used restraint as a watchword. He tried to keep a grip. The National Council knew that middle America must be cultivated and drawn to its side for peace ideas and ideals to get a fair hearing.
Most successful, broad-based public movements need a superb strategic sense of "ally-building." This was not easy in such a broad and diverse coalition of Christian groups as represented in the National Disarmament Council. In a circular letter of October 1921, Libby endorsed the August proposals of the Federal Council of Churches to stir public opinion as the Washington Conference drew near. He recommended these tactics to the thirty-six organizations that had flocked to his banner:
(1.) To make Sunday, Nov. 6 a special day of prayer and to suggest to pastors that sermons be preached on the Christian Significance of the Washington Conference.
(2.) To hold public meetings on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings following for the discussion of the practical questions that the Washington Conference will consider.
(3.) To hold an impressive concluding union service on Armistice Day at 4 p.m.(32)
This was activism with flair, the kind of ceremonial that would appeal to middle America. As Leonard Hoag documents:
Church people were urged to form study groups on disarmament and international resolutions; to cooperate with other national and local movements demanding real reduction in armament; to write letters presenting concrete suggestions to their Senators, Congressmen and the members of the American delegation.... Official sources estimated that of the 13,878,671 letters and petitions received by January 15, 1922, not less than 10,092,736 pleaded for divine intercession in the conference. This was indeed a substantial record of religious sentiment.(33)
Though Libby and the National Council were not the sole originators of these proposals, his efforts became more and more highlighted by the national media. In October 1921, Libby and his staff moved into a permanent office in Washington, D.C., an event which they "milked" for important press coverage. In fact, in the pre-television era, the press attention given to the National Council was one of the best indicators of the Council's effectiveness during the period between October 1921 and February 1922. On 4 October 1921 in an address in Wilmington, Ohio, Libby was reported as saying: "It will take 10 years to establish what the world desires above everything else--reduction of war machinery and abandonment of war projects." This reflected Libby's Calvinism--his sense of political realism. He explained that "the American people move to and from a program like a pendulum swings." Now, he felt, "the time is ripe" to push home the subject of arms control.(34) The 15 October 1921 Washington Star picked up the debate between Christina Merriman and the Public Ledger and printed both Merriman's letter to Secretary Hughes and Hughes' reply. The Wichita Daily Eagle of 24 October followed suit. Even The New York Times came on board. On 16 October the Times headlined the Merriman-Public Ledger dispute as "HUGHES WELCOMES AID FOR CONFERENCE: Thanks National Council For Efforts `to Develop Sound Opinion'." The Times article reported the purpose of the National Council as to "unite and make articulate through the member organizations the overwhelming sentiment of the people of the United States in favor of reduction of armaments."
On 18 October, the New York World gave the National Council its endorsement: "Confidence in the good faith of the (Hughes) delegation is not incompatible with a watchful attitude." Thus the momentum was building that would keep the National Council in the public eye throughout the Washington Conference. The Washington Post of 21 October published a picture of Libby and his associates moving into their new office on 532 Seventeenth Street N.W. in the nation's capital. The Post would not be the last paper to note the delicious irony that peacemakers were now occupying the former headquarters of General Ulysses S. Grant!
The Christian Science Monitor that same day headlined: "NATIONAL COUNCIL STARTS ITS WORK FOR DISARMAMENT: Permanent Organization Reached By Delegates Representing Six Million People Who Will Focus Sentiment for Peace." The article included statements of support from the National Board of Farm Organizations and the Women's Trade Union League. A spokesman from the Women's Christian Temperance Union reported to the Monitor: "Through the council, representing millions of organized men and women, it will be possible to make known to our delegates at the Conference the powerful sentiment of the country for the limitation of armaments."
On 30 November 1921, the Monitor also reported on a Libby news dispatch announcing a referendum among the member organizations of the National Council to the effect that "we endorse the limitation of naval armaments as proposed by Secretary Hughes." Libby was quoted as saying: "It is an acknowledged fact that the delegations are daily issuing statements designed wholly to test public opinion.... This half-unconscious power which is being wielded by the people of this country must be made fully conscious if it is to do good rather than harm."
The National Council was now a national story. Even the Christmas Spirit was enlisted for the cause. The Washington Post of 18 December 1921 showed a Libby staffer posing with a poster of the Magi adoring the Star of Bethlehem. The poster bore the logo based on a slogan of President Harding's: "Before Another Christmas, Less of Armaments and None of War!" The high water mark of press attention undoubtedly came three days later with a lead story on the front page of The New York Times. Underneath a generous-sized photograph of Libby the opening paragraph read:
The Advisory Committee to the American delegation in the Conference on Limitation of Armaments ... was called upon today by the unofficial National Council for Limitation of Armament to reconsider its position in opposition to the abolition of submarines. The appeal to the Advisory Committee to reconsider its opinion was communicated to Chairman Sutherland (of the United States Se in a letter from Frederick J. Libby, Executive Secretary of the National Council.
Such support and attention from the nation's largest metropolitan daily was a major indicator of peace activism's scope and influence, public relations skill, and concern to bring the average American on board. As the Conference progressed with its work Libby worked to strengthen public support for ratification of the treaties.(35) On 9 January 1922, the Boston Herald quoted Libby under the headline "Ratification of Treaties Urged." In Buffalo, so the Courier of 28 January reported, Libby influenced two thousand people to approve a resolution calling upon the United States Senate to ratify the agreements reached in Washington. Nor was Libby alone in this. The previous summer a petition signed by 20,503 clergymen calling for a reduction of armaments was presented to President Harding. Now, in Leonard Hoag's words, "the Administration and the nation as a whole became conscious of a Church Militant." The religious impulse of the nation wanted peace and arms limitation but "righteousness first of all." Above all, America should set the example. Such was the temper of the time. By 22 March 1922, no less than 16,185 ministers would push for ratification in a petition presented to the president and the U.S. Senate signed by Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, and Jews. This petition, together with declarations from the Federal Council of Churches, the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the United Synagogues of America was read into the Congressional Record.
Rare was the policymaker who could resist the pressure exerted from people of the stature of Harry Emerson Fosdick, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, William Allen White, Bella Case LaFollette, wife of the distinguished senator from Wisconsin, and Alice Goldmark, wife of the noted justice of the Supreme Court. With the National Council on the cutting edge, the pressure on the Senate was crucial because this was the body charged with the ratification of the treaties.
At the conclusion of the Washington Conference on 11 February 1922, the Boston Herald carried a report on Libby's National Council with the lead "Will Urge Quick Senate Action." From mobilizing over one million "no" opinions during the controversial diplomatic negotiations over submarines and poison gas in early December 1921, to the lobbying for ratification, peace activists had organized and masterminded America's first broad-front peace organization specifically devoted to influencing executive and legislative decisions on disarmament and the reduction of international tension. Tactful, ecumenical, and non-utopian, Libby and his allies in the peace movement represented the grand Progressive tradition of an appeal to the public interest as well as a strain of Christian intellectualism that surprised some. This is well illustrated by the National Council's International Forums that were convened throughout the conference. For example, The Washington Star of 25 December 1921 cheered a Libby press release announcing that speakers from South China and Russia, countries without delegates at the Washington Conference, would be addressing the next Forum held at the National Council headquarters. These public forums comprised yet another weapon in the arsenal that the National Council deployed. They exemplified the peace worker's conviction of the value of "education for peace":
World organization and world-wide reduction of armaments will not be enough to make peace permanent unless the children of the world are educated for peace. Unless the hold what we hand down to them and establish it more securely, the of glamour of war and failure to realize its appalling destructiveness may after a generation undo our best endeavor.(36)
Peace, these activists knew, requires "the utmost understanding and sympathy between peoples," a staple of the International Forums. These public discussion groups and urbane seminars testified to the cosmopolitanism and confidence of the peace movement in this era. The Forums attracted the attention of the National Council's ardent critic, the Philadelphia Public Ledger. The Ledger ran an article on 24 November 1921, titled: Women Maintain Armament Forum: National Council Keeps Open House Near Conference Headquarters; College Girls Serve Tea; Borah and Bryan Scheduled to Make Addresses; Candid Welcome For All. The article continued:
If one can't get near the actual Conference, drop into the gray brick house on the corner, not far away. It has been taken over by the National Council for the period of the Conference and is the only place in Washington where folks may drop in to meet and hear discussions on armaments by persons of other nationalities also here for the Conference and other Americans interested in the issues.
Libby's associate Laura Puffer Morgan had arranged for girls from nearby Vassar College to act as hostesses four times a week in the building's social room. The basement had been turned into a cafeteria with the ingenious title "Cafe Des Nations." The Ledger noted that the National Council was the only group with a base "which is open all day and evening, with a restaurant included, where persons may learn about the issues of the Conference."(37) The Forums addressed issues the official delegates could not easily or openly discuss. The list of dignitaries who spoke at these four-times-a-week conclaves was impressive:
* November 21: Madame Ka'ji Yajima of Japan who had presented President Harding with a peace petition signed by 10,000 Japanese women.
* November 28: Lord Riddell of England, a representative of the Newspaper Publishers Association of London.
* November 30: Baron Kanda, a member of the House of Peers of Japan.
* December 3: Dr. F. H. Huang of China, a secretary for the Chinese delegation.
* December 14: The Honorable Guiseppe Gentile of Italy, a member of the Chamber of Deputies attached to the Italian delegation.
* December 19: Wickham Steed, editor of The London Times.
* December 30: Captain B. E. Domvile, Naval Advisor to the British delegation.
* January 6: Robert Fournier-Sarloueze, a member of the French Chamber of Deputies and advisor on economic matters.
* January 23: The Right Honorable Srinivasa Sastri, a member of the British Empire delegation from India.(38)
Another promotional tactic of peace workers was writing up their own press releases, a common tactic today but less so in 1921. Libby himself knew how to blend patriotism and the appeal to peace: "Americanism at its best is international in sympathy," he taught.(39) Behind these easily-digested phrases lay a spirit of activist internationalism, a Christian worldview which not only critiqued "realist" approaches to foreign affairs but also set forth what Glenn Stassen calls "transforming initiatives."
For example, against the chronic tendency for well-armed nations to slip into a militarized foreign policy almost by default, Libby set an alternative model: "audacious friendliness." Audacious friendliness was his Christian substitute for the bluster and posturing that characterizes too much international diplomacy.(40) Many of Libby's stump speeches and personal interviews with policymakers went into his 1922 summary of lessons learned during the Washington Conference, War on War: Campaign Textbook. His analyses make a valuable contribution to alternative studies in international relations theory. They have a haunting timelessness this side of World War II, and the Korean, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars:
One of the fallacies exposed by the Great War owed its origin in part to Germany's successful war against France in 1870-71. It was the fallacy that war pays. If ever a war seemed to pay in cash, territory and prestige, it was that war. It was credited with having made the great German Empire out of relatively unimportant states .... Forty-five years passed, costly years in which ever-increasing outlays were required to uphold the first injustice, and then came the present retribution.(41)
As a Progressive, Libby's appeal to reason and reasonability reflected his negative view of the psychological dyspepsia created by the "weight of armaments," a handy phrase for the technological dynamic driving modem war. "Growing armaments across the border create fear," he argued; "Fear creates counter-armaments. Counter-armaments create counter-fear." Libby argued that "when a nation fears being distanced" in a technologically-driven arms race, "it is likely to strike."(42)
These are trenchant arguments. Some of Libby's best sallies were in defense of the proposition that through an ineluctable concentration of psychological and emotional factors, quantitative arms build-ups become major qualitative factors in their own right. To put it in current terminology: the hardware begins to drive the agenda. War on War is studded with selected quotes from authorities outlining this mordant dynamic. In this Libby fell into the trap awaiting many public advocates: the selective citation of evidence, the culling of quotes to supposedly add expert testimony for the cause. For example, Libby quoted General F. B. Maurice of the British armed forces who entered the army believing "that if you want peace you must prepare for war. I believe now that if you prepare for war you will get war."(43) General John J. Pershing was another verbal witness cited to underscore the quite reasonable premise that World War I should have convinced everybody "of the danger of nations striding up and down the earth armed to the teeth."(44) These testimonies would ring much truer if Maurice and Pershing had resigned their military commands, for example. Libby and his peace workers could not totally escape the charge of being propagandists, of using whatever ends to justify the means.
Though an advocate of world organization and a supporter of a permanent court of world justice, Libby put more stress on enlightened diplomacy and international understanding--"audacious friendliness--over world courts and leagues of nations. Nor was he deceived as to the "complexity," as he put it, of the problems of internationalism.(45) In later years, after losing support from most of his political friends after Pearl Harbor, Libby soldiered on. He remained influential in peace counsels throughout World War II. Three organizations patterned after the National Council took shape as part of his legacy. The Friends Committee on National Legislation was created as a channel for Friends and other organizations to promote peace through legislation. The National Council Against Conscription, organized in 1944 by John Swomley, was an early attempt to battle the unwarranted influence of what President Dwight Eisenhower later called "the military-industrial complex." The Farmers and World Affairs organization set up by Ray Newton was also in the Libby mould. This organization allowed eight or more influential American farmers and their wives to study farm problems in India for six years as part of an exchange program.
Libby's main legacy, however, lay in his conviction that the best hope for world peace was an informed and enlightened opinion of the kind harnessed and deployed at the Washington Conference--"consciousness-raising," as it would be called today. In that emphasis he was typical of his era but also strikingly relevant:
Public opinion is unquestionably the actual basis of peace and order in the world. Force is futile without it. Laws that lack the support of a great body of public opinion become quickly a dead letter. Government rests ultimately not upon force but upon "the consent of the governed". . . . Supporters of this theory have therefore much more than idealistic sentiment on their side.(46)
These ideas have been contested, of course. One could ask what kind of public opinion was represented by the peasants of Iraq in the months preceding the formal outbreak of the Persian Gulf War. Democracies have a habit of not going to war with each other, but this leaves the question open for relations between other states. In this light, the Libby legacy still has relevance, however. The official American response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was not characterized by vigorous public debate.
In war it doesn't do for a nation to sympathize too much with its antagonist; therefore nothing must be known about the other country except the worst that can be told. That is the way that hate and fury can be generate .... Permanent peace will require the utmost possible understanding and sympathy between people's so that none shall be in danger of being stampeded, through ignorance and prejudice, into any warlike mood.(47)
"Being stampeded, through ignorance and prejudice, into any war-like mood"--these words by General John F. O'Ryan from Libby's writings articulate truths that ring truer after the Persian Gulf War. Thus time has not dimmed the contributions of Frederick J. Libby and the peace movement he helped lead, "the first major peace organization wholly devoted to influencing executive and legislative decisions about foreign policy," in the words of John W. Swomley, Jr. We can respect what Libby and his coworkers represented: a Christian internationalism, a plea for an enlightened and educated public opinion as a deterrent to what historian Thomas McCormick sees too much about him today: the continued militarization of foreign policy.(48) Libby advocated "intelligent opinion." In that approach he was representative of his time and ahead of his time. Some of his words read very well seventy years later, especially his plea that "we, in common with other nations, also need all the light we can get upon the rest of the human family."(49)
In the 1920s and 1930s, Libby and his allies conceptualized the problem of war in sophisticated terms, empirical analyses which helped negate the charge brought against peace and disarmament advocates as being simplistic and naive. Florence Brewer Boeckel rejected the charge of shallowness brought against Christian activists with such rejoinders as "The very men through whose instrumentality, consciously or unconsciously, the dreadful catastrophe has been brought about explain it on the ground that, human nature being what it is, any other determination was impossible."(50) Boeckel would doubtlessly have agreed with Herbert Butterfield and Martin Wright's more recent critique of international relations study:
I believe it can be argued that international theory is marked not only by paucity but also by intellectual and moral poverty... International theory is theory of survival.... If in the twentieth century crude doctrines of world imperialism nave become influential is it not partly because they have found a vacuum in international theory to fill?(51)
If--as Butterfield and Wright have argued--much international theory still operates in a vacuum, it can do worse than remembering the alternatives outlined by the National Council for the Limitation of Armaments. They sensed that technological war had changed things. In so doing, they intuited the task ahead for peace activists in the post-Hiroshima age. Their theme was recaptured by peace advocate Ursula Franklin:
Institutional and commercial initiatives to resolve conflict non-violently and to transcend war and violence are hard to sustain in an environment structured by assumptions of escalating violence and warfare, whether economic or military. At one point planning becomes prophecy--not by what planning and structuring does, but by what the plans and structures prevent.(52)
Franklin echoes Libby: "Saying no to the war option makes diplomacy even more important."(53) To counter the suspicion, the apathy and the psychological tension that armaments intensify, Florence Boeckel offered a vital counter-force: international understanding and global consciousness-raising as a first step in the establishment of new norms of international behavior. "International understanding must be regarded not as a rare exception, but as the normal method for the present conduct of the world," she argued.(54) Obviously, Boeckel's views are hard to dismiss with the word "utopian." Boeckel saw clearly how science and technology had changed the world, but she also saw the hidden opportunities for peace workers: "The problem is not one of" education for peace, "but of education for a way of life in harmony with new conditions. The individual's environment reaches today around the earth... nothing anywhere is wholly remote or foreign to him."(55)
Years before "far away places with strange-sounding names" would disturb the sleep of the world--places such as Danzig, the Sudetenland, Guadalcanal, Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Kuwait and Bosnia--Christian apostles of internationalism were pleading the case for renewed understanding in the "global village" that technology was making possible. While Libby's religious background and mindset should never be discounted, he himself was clever enough to see the need to reach the secular audience. Pacifism for him meant "aggressive friendliness" more than a simple refusal to bear arms. Goodwill, informed public opinion, and a lively internationalism--these were Libby and Boeckel's standards for the conduct of effective diplomacy. In that context, Libby's colleagues even ventured to answer to the old canard: What would pacifists counsel Texas if Mexico decided to invade? "One-tenth of the cost of our military measures against Mexico," Libby once wrote, It spent in service of the people of Mexico, would have made our southern border permanently safe."(56) This is part of what we describe today as transforming initiatives.
In their broad and enlightened humanitarianism, in their revulsion to shallow thinking and stereotypy in the formulation of foreign policy, in their pursuit of the need to champion human dignity and basic human understanding, Libby, Boeckel, and their associates were effectively extending peace advocacy out to broader frontiers. They were helping keep alive norms of international behavior, norms that even Middle Eastern dictators sometimes ignore at their peril. In that sense, peace activism's ideological position has represented a valuable contribution to international relations thought.
Perhaps Peter Brock summarized peace activism's contribution in this period most effectively:
The legalism that has been common among pacifists of all hues up to and be the middle of the nineteenth century--especially the idea that war was sin forbidden the Christian by the injunctions set out in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in the New Testament--gradually receded in importance, as increasing emphasis came to be placed on searching out and eradicating the seeds of war and hatred within the individual and within national and international society.(57)
The activities of prominent Christian peace activists at the time of the Washington Conference make an important case study in how church leaders can impact upon the state for good.(58) Libby and his peace movement in the 1930s were living rebukes to isolationism. Though the tactical opening provided in 1921 did not return, Libby and his allies were always there. The peace activists of 1921-1922 thus appear now in the longer view of history as major forces in the strengthening of American--and indeed world--public opinion and in defending and advancing civilized norms for the international community. Oswald Garrison Villard, former editor of The Nation, would toast Libby in 1941 as another war raged: "If our country's aims were really to build a better world... we could do no better than to send to the countries we are to conquer men of the faith, character, steadfastness and simple Christianity of a Fred Libby."(59) When his autobiography, To End War, appeared in 1969, an auspicious moment for peace activism, Libby was still, at age 94, acting as his country's conscience to help strengthen world order and to limit the production of "horror weapons," many of which remain.
Thus, the Washington Conference, the venue for one of the most successful arms limitation agreements in history, casts its long shadow down to us today. It is a shadow, however, that offers shade for today's activists engaged in the often enervating task of peace and disarmament. Intelligence, discretion, and strategy--the watchwords of Libby and Boeckel--are lasting legacies upon which peace activists of our day can build.
(1.) Peace advocates are scored for fixating on "simplistic" half-truths such as "decrease in armaments is an indication of stability and peace." This is critiqued as less logical than Hans J. Morgenthau's realist aphorism: "Men do not fight because they have arms. They have arms because they deem it necessary to fight." See his Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1967), 392.
(2.) Glen H. Stassen, just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), 115.
(3.) Robert H. Ferrell, American Diplomacy: A History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1959), 337-39. Though the treaties would be bitterly attacked in the post-World War Two period as a sellout of American interests overseas, Ferrell wisely explains that Japan's naval rise in World War I made the far Pacific virtually indefensible anyway. The American delegation "was giving away only what had been lost."
(4.) Robert Dallek, "Between the Wars: Diplomacy of Hope and Fear," The American Style of Foreign Policy: Cultural Politics and Foreign Affairs (New York: Knopf, 1983), 95.
(5.) Melvin Small, Johnson, Nixon, and the Doves (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1989), 3.
(6.) ibid., 3, 8.
(7.) From the related field of public relations, Brenda Lynch, an instructor in public relations at UCLA, explains in a personal communication: "We can set up atmospherics and create awareness but give no flat, measurable guarantees. You can never track the influence of public relations as much as you would like."
(8.) James N. Rosenau, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy (New York: Random House, 1961), 11.
(9.) Small, Johnson, Nixon, and the Doves, 234.
(10.) Akira Iriye, After Imperialism: The Search for a New Order in the Far East, 1921-1941 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1965), 7.
(11.) See Stephen Roskill, Naval Policy Between the Wars (1): The Period of Anglo-American Antagonism, 1919-1929 (London: Collins, 1968), 89-90. Harold Sprout and Margaret Sprout, The Rise of American Naval Power (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1939), 89, 99.
(12.) Sprout and Sprout, The Rise of American Naval Power, 99.
(13.) C.P. Stacey, Canada in the Age of Conflict (Toronto: MacMillan of Canada, 1977), 1: 342.
(14.) Sprout and Sprout, The Rise of American Naval Policy, 348.
(15.) Roger Dingman, Power in the Pacific: The Origins of Naval Arms Limitation, 1912-1922 (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 11
(16.) Florence Brewer Boeckel, Between War and Peace: A Handbook for Peace Workers (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1928), 3.
(17.) National Council Papers, Box 1.
(18.) George Peter Marabell, Frederick Libby and the American Peace Movement, 1921-1941 (Ph.D. diss., Michigan State University, 1975), 17, 27.
(19.) Ibid., 22.
(20.) Ibid., 25.
(21.) Sprout, The Rise of American Naval Power, 100.
(22.) Frederick J. Libby, To End War: The Story of the National Council for Prevention of War (Nyack, N.Y.: Fellowship Publications, 1969), 2.
(23.) National Council Papers, Box 1.
(25.) Dallek, "Between the Wars," 97, 95-96.
(26.) Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), 298-99.
(29.) Ibid., 19 October 1921. Unfortunately not all the National Council papers are dated or have readable dates on the microfilm copies.
(30.) See quotes from Gitlin's The Whole World is Watching (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1980), in Michael Parenti's Inventing Reality: The Politics of the Mass Media (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986), 94-106.
(31.) Charles DeBenedetti and Charles Chatfield, An American Ordeal (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press), 159-60.
(33.) C. Leonard Hoag, Preface to Preparedness: The Washington Disarmament Conference and Public Opinion (Washington, D.C.: American Council on Public Affairs, 1941), 103-04.
(34.) Ibid., Box 13. The newspaper quotes that follow are from this file.
(35.) The Four Power Treaty (U.S., U.K., Japan, France) concluded on 13 December 1921 abrogated the 1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance. It also provided for consultation among the signatories in the event of future disputes. The Five Power Treaty (U.S., U.K., Japan, France, Italy), concluded on 6 February 1922, persuaded Japan to accept carrier and battleship inferiority ratios in exchange for territorial trade-offs but a virtual free hand in the Far Pacific. See Robert Ferrell, American Diplomacy: A History (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1959), 333-39.
(36.) Frederick J. Libby, War on War: Campaign Textbook (Washington, D.C. 1922), 52-53. This work bears Libby's intellectual stamp with such lively subtitles as "Disarming the World's Textbooks" (p. 53) and "Waging Peace. . ." (p. 52).
(37.) National Council Papers, Box 13.
(38.) Ibid., Box 1.
(40.) Marabel, Frederick Libby, 247.
(41.) Libby, War on War, 5-6.
(42.) Ibid., 6, 36.
(43.) Ibid., 46.
(44.) Ibid., 5.
(45.) National Council Papers, Box 1. In an undated letter from these files Libby further revealed his realism and balance. "The League of Nations is neither supported nor attacked. It is treated as one of the great experiments in organizing the world for peace ... The Four-Power Pact is an experiment in regional organization for peace by agreement" (emphasis added). Tactician Libby would not let his sincerely-held Christian faith pull him into utopianism. "Peace with security is what our people yearn for. They are, not ready yet spiritually to risk all and disarm, trusting in the protection of the Almighty.... An active foreign policy of service is the correlative of Christian disarmament." This is a man with a practical sense of the possible.
(46.) Libby, War on War, 60.
(47.) Ibid., 52.
(48.) Thomas J. McCormick, America's Half-Century: United States Foreign Policy in the Cold War (Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), 99.
(49.) Ibid., 58.
(50.) Boeckel, Between War and Peace, 3-4.
(51.) Herbert Butterfield and Martin Wright, Diplomatic Investigations: Essays in the Theory of International Politics (London: George Allen and Unwin-Mn Ltd., 1966), 20, 33, 23.
(52.) Ursula Franklin, The Real World of Technology (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1993), 79-80 (emphasis added).
(53.) Ursula Franklin, interview by author, telephone (Toronto, 4 June 1991).
(54.) Boeckel, Between War and Peace, 277.
(55.) Ibid., 15.
(56.) National Council Papers, Box 1.
(57.) Peter Brock, Pacifism in the United States: From the Colonial Era to the First World War (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1968), 946.
(58.) Nor is the historical revisionism to which the Washington Conference was subjected in the post-World War Two period a reason to impugn the disarmers of 1921-1922. Akira Iriye in After Imperialism: The Search for a New Order in the Far East, 1921-1931, and Origins of the Second World War in the Pacific outlined the complexities of Far Eastern questions in this period. Iriye argues that it was by no means inevitable that Japan would later attack the United States. Iriye mentions that as late as 1941 Japanese diplomats were still trying to reconcile their difficulties with the Americans based on precedents established at the Washington Conference.
(59.) From the frontispiece, To End War: The Story of the National Council for Prevention of War by Frederick J. Libby (Nyack, N.Y.: Fellowship Publications, 1969).
NEIL EARLE (B.A., Memorial University, Ambassador University; M.A., University of Toronto) is a journalist and historian based in Sunland, California. He is author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in American Popular Culture: Uneasy in Eden. His articles have appeared in Journal of Canadian Studies. Special interests include culture history, media studies, and contemporary theology.
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|Publication:||Journal of Church and State|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1998|
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