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Swabian, are very highly esteemed by the Allied and Associated diplomatic bodies in Berlin. Chancellor Wirth is endeavoring to do his duty by the Treaty of Versailles, as well as by his own people. But he has to call upon the German people to double the state revenue in order to pay reparations; and though I am convinced that he can do it if he meets with proper support, politics in Germany are very bitter, and the parties of reaction stick at nothing. All the old reactionary forces are still in existence. The Army, the Church, and the Universities combine with the landlords and the great industrial magnates to make things difficult for a government which has no great prestige for want of past successes, and has the invidious task of sending the hat round for the Allies. The mass of the Left, and even some of the intermediate parties, have at present rallied to the Chancellor's support; and if street demonstrations count for much, the majority of the voters are for him. The Allies have abolished the Rhine customs as a tribute to him; but, owing to the opposition of France, have not withdrawn from Düsseldorf, Ruhrort, and Duisburg, as Dr. Wirth has very earnestly pleaded that they should.
The Right parties in Germany complain that the Government lacks authority, cannot represent the country with the old distinction, and is subservient to the Allies. Most of the notable leaders of the Imperialist party are getting on in years, and they probably feel that time is on the side of German Republicanism. In a few years most of the old officers will have settled down to new occupations and may retain little more than a sentimental attachment to Kaiserism. The Right probably feel that they cannot afford to wait, and they count, with some reason, upon the
national pride, which revolts against the peace and the surrender to the Allied ultimatum of last May. But it seems to be the prescriptive right of this party to make colossal blunders, and the assassination of Erzberger, almost condoned as it was by many Opposition newspapers, is the last on the list.
No one can safely predict the future of German politics, which depend on events that cannot be foreseen; but that the character of the new Chancellor and the policy of his Government offer the best ascertainable chance for the gradual pacification, not only of Germany, but of Europe, will not be disputed by the closest observers of European politics.
For the reasons stated in the earlier part of this article, I do not think that very much can be expected from the meeting at Washington in the way of reduction of land forces. With respect to navies it is different, because there are only three great navies that count, and none of these is specially concerned in the enforcement of the terms of peace upon our late enemies, who have no navies at all. It is, therefore, merely a question of agreeing to a mutual stand-still in naval armaments; and this question, it would seem, should present no insuperable difficulties.
But I cannot think that such an important conference will break up without suggesting a remedy for the ills which I have briefly described. Armaments are symptoms of a political disease, but are not the disease itself. The real diseases of the world are unstable exchanges, unsound currencies, hampered trade, and the false nationalism which shuns obligatory arbitration. Cure these diseases and armaments cure themselves.
EVERY civilized man wants peace. But peace has its price, payable in two installments. The first installment is disarmament. The second consists of all the consequences, political, economic, religious, and racial, which must flow from the laying down of arms. Nine tax-payers out of ten sigh for the privilege of paying the first installment at once. But are they willing to pay the balance of the bill?
This is the world's gravest question to-day. It must be faced and answered before the close of the Washington Conference. Thus far it has been evaded. Most people, who are always looking for a panacea, dream that disarmament alone will bring the Golden Age. Others, more canny, admit that the move may involve some unpleasant changes, but they belittle these. Only a few thousand bankers, international traders, and political specialists foresee some of the startling transformations that must ensue. And nobody knows all the impending upheavals.
It is these certainties and uncertainties that cause well-informed men, who have no interest in bolstering up militarism, to doubt the wisdom, as well as the possibility, of quick disarmament. They all know that the Conference will make no effort to disarm the world,
1 The phraseology of this paper is not intended as a reflection upon the recent statement of Secretary Hughes that the subject of the forthcoming Conference is to be limitation of armaments rather than disarmament. — THE EDITOR.
but will only reduce army and navy expenses; which, as one close thinker remarked, 'will bring disarmament about as fast as a cheapening of automobiles will abolish transportation.' Many foreign observers no longer believe that even such a reduction of costs is the primary aim. They see America striv. ing to force Japan's hand by compelling her to define her Asiatic policies under the pretext of a peace move. Lieutenant-General Sato advises the Japanese Government to send no men of the first rank to the Conference, 'but only those who are fluent in foreign languages, and sociable.' For, in common with some French critics, he thinks the whole affair will dwindle to a string of brilliant dinners and press-agent hurrahs. Behind their caustic doubts lie many hard facts too jauntily overlooked by most peace-lovers. The longer we shut our eyes to them, the longer we must wait for world peace.
The Conference faces six obstacles of the first magnitude - and heaven knows how many lesser hindrances. By all odds the greatest is the chaos in China. Next ranks the chaos in Russia, coupled with Russia's absence from the arms parley. The third is a profound dilemma in Japan's national policy; the fourth a similar one in our own, and both dilemmas aggravated by the lessons of the World War. The fifth is the still unbroken power of the militarist party in Japan. And the sixth is the sheer physical impossibility of devising
a disarmament programme that will affect equally or equitably all participants. Probably no one or two of these obstacles would suffice to thwart the Conference. The menace lies in all six working in conjunction and reinforced by a host of lesser difficulties, economic, political, and social, the whole tangle involving billions of human beings, billions in money, a hundred theories, and a hundred aspirations and prejudices of race and creed.
Is not the task too great for the mind of man? Is it not one which only a politician would rush at hopefully? Whether we think so or not, one thing is pretty clear: the organization and the membership of the Conference betray an amazing neglect of the inmost nature of the Pacific problems. To realize this, one need only recall the following facts.
The invitation to the Conference made clear that, until the nations of the Pacific reached some understanding as to their rights and policies in that area, it would be vain to move for disarmament. The stakes are too huge, the conflict of interests too acute, the disparity of ethical and political codes too gross. This view was promptly accepted by almost every statesman at home and abroad. It is axiomatic, in spite of the sentimentalists and ignoramuses who say that wars are caused by talking war, that the way to disarm is to disarm, and that America must lead the world in idealism - whatever that may mean. Let us see how President Harding applied this statesman-like principle.
All major problems of the Pacific, save that of Asiatic emigration, centre in China and Siberia. There lie, still barely scratched, the world's vastest treasuries of raw materials, the greatest forests on earth, the hugest coal-fields, stupendous iron-deposits, millions of acres that some day must yield wheat
and cotton. There too swarm some four hundred million unappeased consumers of manufactured goods, a multitude greater than the combined populations of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, with Japan thrown in for good measure.
China and Siberia are richer in economic resources and in man-power than all these lands. Beside them, all the rest of the Pacific area is rather insignificant. They are the two problems of the Pacific. But neither China nor Siberia can be reckoned with at the Conference. Neither will be truly present there. Neither will be able to present or to defend its rights and policies. And there is not the remotest chance that either will like the decisions of the foreigners.
Here, then, is the comedy, and here the stuff of which tragedies are woven. Briton, Yankee, and Japanese meet to usher in world peace. They dare not discuss laying down arms until each knows what the other two are planning to do with the Far East. What each can there do depends in the long run upon the wishes of the Chinese and Siberians, unless these peoples are to be overawed by force. If thus bullied, Asia will see no disarmament, nor can America. If bullying ceases, China and Siberia will automatically settle their own destinies; for they will then have the freedom to do so, as well as the desire.
Thus the Washington Conference must choose either to disarm and leave Asia to the Asiatics, or else to run Asia and maintain immense fleets. The first alternative wrecks the policy of every non-Asiatic power. The second makes the Conference futile. Lacking the moral courage to solve this dilemma, the delegates may dodge the problem of disarmament and confine themselves to the task of trimming budgets. But even this develops painful difficulties.
Look first at the chaos in China, around which all other difficulties revolve. That land is rotting, politically and socially. It is an indescribable pandemonium. Famine, pestilence, civil wars, and the alien enemy at the gates have undermined its frail structure of state. Corrupt politicians and foreign adventurers prey upon the weakened members. And the masses sink deeper into the sleep of opium, while the classes burn with a new hatred of the foreigners who contribute to the ruin.
Two governments wave their banners, one at Peking, the other in Canton. And a third is struggling to be born at Hupeh. The Peking affair is a scream. Led by President Hsu Shihchang, a gentle philosopher and poet of renown, it is the vilest militarism in all the world to-day. Honest, noble, and unworldly, Hsu was cleverly chosen by a bogus legislature made up of the henchmen of China's two mighty war lords, Chang Tso-lin and Tsao Kun, who are busy making money at the country's expense. Hsu is not a party to their disgraceful ventures and treacheries. He protests much, and sometimes manages to thwart them for a time, in lesser affairs. But, as they control the armies and collect taxes and play practical politics with veteran skill, Hsu disturbs them little.
Only three or four of China's eighteen provinces even feign to obey Peking. In reality these do not, for they are the domains of the three war lords who created Hsu's régime. Hsu gets taxes and obedience from them only when the war lords feel like contributing either, which is not often. Last July, Chang Tso-lin, being short of change, pocketed the salt revenues of Manchuria, where he rules. The tuchun (military governor) of Shantung recently appropriated the post-office re
ceipts. In three other provinces, the retiring officials were graciously permitted to take with them considerable funds from the treasury. And thus everywhere and always.
The result is chronic bankruptcy at Peking. Troops go unpaid for months. Sometimes they mutiny, as at Ichang and Wuchang, last summer, where they pillaged terribly. To check such outbreaks, Hsu has raised money by 'diverting' the educational appropriations. For nine months teachers have gone penniless, and the schools have been closed by a teachers' and students' strike. These funds being lamentably inadequate, the Government has lately pressed the Chinese Eastern Railway for a twenty-five-year-old debt, and has allowed that company to pay up with a bond issue, put out on such terms that only the Japanese would consider buying it, and they not for profit so much as for political reasons. At the same time Hsu and his Cabinet have been making desperate economies in small matters. Their auditors have found 1256 office-holders in Peking drawing two or more salaries; the ministers are reorganizing their staffs downward, and some high officials have been invited to accept half-pay. All of which does not improve Hsu's credit at the banks, as we mark in his emergency loan of a million dollars last summer, on which he was obliged to pay 18 per cent interest. The only wonder is that the financiers did not demand 50 per cent.
The Cabinet and departments are befuddled and disorganized past all belief. They appeared at their worst in the recent radio dispute. Seemingly, the Government had granted three wireless concessions to as many parties, all overlapping and incompatible. The fact was, though, that no Government granted any concession. The Ministry of the Navy entered into an agreement with the Mitsui Company in 1918.
The Ministry of War did likewise with the Marconi Company in 1919. And last January the Ministry of Communications followed suit with the Federal Wireless Company, an American concern. The first two agreements carried plain monopoly rights, and it was this fact that caused our State Department to protest. An investigation showed that each ministry serenely ignored, or else knew nothing about, what the other two were doing; and neither President nor Cabinet checked up on the ridiculous performance. Which moves us to quote the old China trader's remark on Chinese politics: 'When you are through fighting for the Open Door in China, you'll open it and find nobody at home.'
So shaky is this rag-doll government of Peking that, before these lines are printed, it may be a thing of the past. What follows it will depend chiefly upon two men, Chang Tso-lin and Sun Yat-sen.
The Canton government is a model of neatness and strength beside Hsu's. And its founder commands respect even among his opponents. President Sun is pretty generally regarded as a patriot of high intelligence, and the vital force behind the New China. For a decade he has championed a genuine democracy, and has drawn to his side many of the best minds. Unhappily, though, the masses have not seen fit to follow the best minds a familiar habit of masses everywhere. The ordinary Chinese has no interest in politics, which he looks upon as a somewhat shady business, less profitable than peddling opium, and less agreeable than gambling. The people who count in politics are the hordes of small office-holders, who look to it for a livelihood, the thousands of poppy farmers, who need political protection, and the corrupt mandarins and tuchuns, who subsist on likin, 'squeeze,' and simple 'appropriation.'
Now all these worthies fear Sun, and either oppose him, use his movement for their own ends, or else hold aloof, under the pretense of favoring provincial autonomy instead of a strong central government. Many Europeans and Japanese in the treaty ports dislike Sun for reasons only a degree nicer. Some brand him as a Bolshevik and accuse him of playing Lenin's game.
This is absurd. Sun stands for the simple democracy which Americans believed in half a century ago. He thinks the ideals of Lincoln; and he is paying the price in much bloodshed and dubious progress. The Canton armies have been fighting steadily for many months, have scored brilliant victories in Kwangsi and the Yangtze districts, but still control little more of China than the northern Government does. To be sure, twice as many provinces have declared for Sun as have sided with Hsu; but with their favor goes no true control. Sun does not truly govern even his own province of Kwangtung, whose tuchun, Chen Chiung-ming, is the commanderin-chief of the Constitutionalist army recruited from five provinces. Chen levies taxes and hands over such funds as he sees fit to the Canton Republic. The Republic, as matters now stand, is nearly as poor of purse as Peking; and were Chen to reduce his bounty, Sun would have nothing to fall back upon save the contributions of Chinese nationalists abroad, the very groups who financed the revolution. There is no reason for believing that Chen will with draw support; but it is important to keep in mind that the Republic, with all its virtues and fine aspirations, owes its very existence to an enlightened tuchun, who may break with Sun almost any day on some new political issue. Such a break may come over the issue of provincial autonomy, which finds its most ardent champions in the five provinces that support Sun.