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Comment on the Times
By GLENN FRANK
"THE DIALOGUE OF GODS"
blue-prints of a new world? Just what
did we win when we won the war? How E are once again indebted
much unfinished business is before the to Alfred G. Gardiner, the
world? This is no time for cynicism, sometime brusk and bril
but still less is it a time for self-delusion. liant editor of “The Lon
We cannot wisely steer our course in don Daily News," for a the year ahead unless we know definitely happy phrase. On his last visit, at the our latitude and longitude in relation to close of his first day in the United our war-time ideals. States, he said in an interview that To begin with, as far as international when in the closing days of the war idealism is concerned, we “are in the messages between Washington and Ber- doldrums," to use Mr. Taft's expressive lin were hurtling over their heads in phrase. We are in the position of having England, it was like “the dialogue of given international thought a new vogods.” And it was. In those tense days cabulary and of being among the first justice sat for a season in the councils of to return to the old dialects. Having diplomacy, and idealism invaded the talked most loudly about international field of international politics long pre- obligations, many of our political leaders empted by the cynical and the selfish. are exhausting the arts of sophistry in a America was, to use another phrase search for definitions of proposed interfrom Mr. Gardiner, "dictating the national obligations that will make terms of new world.” Seasoned them not obligatory save in a tenuous cynics were thrown off their guard. "moral" sense. After challenging EuMany who were not millennial-minded rope to a new sort of international organthought maybe the day of a new deal ization, we covet the status of visitor had dawned. Would “the dialogue of and adviser only in the councils of world gods” be followed by godlike action? politics. All of which is fresh proof that There was an almost pathetic popular a national mind is not susceptible to the confidence in this Olympian conversa- quick conversion that furnished the tion. Then came the armistice; then dramatic element in the primitive campcame the peace conference; then came meeting. We are creatures of more than the Treaty of Versailles; then came the a century of mental as well as geographitimid assumptions or flat denials of in- cal isolation from the mêlée of world ternational responsibility by parlia- politics. It is not didactic diplomacy, ments and chambers and senates; then but the slow tutelage of economic necame the world-wide welter of social cessity that will finally make us a fullunrest, with its destructive effects; then fledged member of the society of nations. came the frank defiance of certain fea- In the matter of economic relations tures of the Versailles settlement by we shall go ahead shouldering our full national groups, with each defiance met responsibility at the very moment we by nothing more decisive than an un- are talking most of our sovereign isolabacked ultimatum.
tion. What a happy thing it is for the More than a year has passed since world that nations are not logical! In we listened to "the dialogue of gods,” extending the necessary credit that and in the always self-critical atmosphere Europe needs to set her industries going of a New Year we are casting up ac- again, we shall find ourselves enmeshed counts. What has happened to our in the councils of the world, regardless of our final decisions respecting the treaty The fact is that the European nations of peace and the League of Nations. accepted American leadership in the
There is no need of professing now a peace conference, to the extent that modesty we did not practise at the they did, with grave misgivings, frank peace conference. We went to Paris protest, and under compulsion. We as a veiled dictator, an assumption re- were rich and, as Europe felt her flatdeemed only by the fact that we sought tened purse, many reluctant concessions no selfish pay for our dictation. Our were made to American contentions. rôle may have been that of the benevo- The peace-conference deliberations were lent autocrat bent upon giving the world far from the antiphonal response of Olddemocracy by decree, but it was benev- World and New-World idealisms that olent. If now the United States has a "the dialogue of gods" foreshadowed. cooling interest in the task of dictation The response to American leadership and a reluctance to assume the inevitable was never hearty, and there has been responsibilities of an American peace, a marked European reaction against it what is happening to Europe's attitude since the conference. toward an American peace?
The first element in Europe's reaction Two ideas were in constant conflict has been a result of the general reaction during the peace conference, the Amer- from the inflated hopes with which the ican idea and the European idea. Strip- world approached the conference. With ping the problem of its detailed issues, sublime confidence the conferees sat the American idea started from the con- down in Paris to the solution of all the ception of a "concert of power" as the problems that had proved insoluble only workable method for administering through the centuries. It was a magnifthe modern world, while the European icent gesture at the control of a drifting idea clung to a "balance of power” as civilization that had been getting inessential to the practical protection of creasingly out of hand for years, but the several nations in the doubtful years some Gibbon of the twenty-first cenahead. It may be said that this state- tury will probably write a chapter on the ment is over-simplified and not literally naïve egotism of a generation that attrue. It may be said that a concert of tempted to do so much at one sitting. power or a league of nations was not an We are beginning to see that aside American idea, but a Wilson idea pure from settling the problem of an immiand simple, or that it was not an exclu- nent German domination there are few sively American idea, as outstanding problems that we have really settled. leaders in virtually all nations espoused This is not of necessity ground for the league idea; the statement may be despair. The defeat of the German plan taken as an unwarranted reflection upon was a deliverance worth its full cost. the idealism of England, France, Italy, But of much of our larger plan for a new and other European nations. Whether sort of world we must frankly confess Mr. Wilson accurately interpreted the shipwreck. German power has been American purpose or not, he did offi- for the time broken, but has the Gercially represent American policy, and in man spirit been chastened and changed? any analysis of results we must consider The problem of the Adriatic, which has his policy as the American idea. No been since the dawn of history a bone of one who has had opportunity to come in contention between Latin, Slav, and contact with public opinion in all re- Teuton, and the trade-concern of others gions of our country during the last as well, has not been settled. The flamthree years can doubt that Mr. Wilson ing fagots of the Balkan question may did faithfully interpret the incorrigible not be blazing with their accustomed idealism of the American mind, however flare, but who can say that they are much it may welch at the assumption of dead? The Turkish cancer has not been costly responsibility in the end. As to cut out. Can any one yet say whether European idealism, actions speak louder the policy of self-determination is to than words-actions in the peace con- result in salutary race deliverance or in ference and actions since the peace the general license of incompetency? conference.
The peace conference had not been going
a week before we saw how quickly the This weakening faith in the league brotherhood of the battle-field could means that Europe must begin to look, give way to mutual suspicion and clever as, indeed, Europe is already looking, trading. We have ordered plebiscites to the possibility of alliances that will right and left in disputed territories, serve as protection in the next embroilbut have we made adequate provision ment. Each and all of the Allied nathat the votes will do more than register tions see that adherence to the American the fears of the inhabitants and drama- idea of settlement is not only failing to tize the internal differences of the ter- produce a workable new organization of ritories? Has any statesmanlike ap- Europe, but is awakening new rivalries proach been made to the problem of and breeding new hatreds that may play Japan as the Prussia of the far East? havoc with the alliances they will want Is India an extinct volcano? The Irish to'form if or when the League of Nations question we have always with us. Have proves unable to give the nations at we even faced seriously the possibility least as good protection as the old sysof a future alliance between the German tem gave them. To be specific, suppose genius for organization and the inex- France follows the American idea in the haustible raw materials of Russia, when Fiume question, Italy grows bitter the Russian bear has recovered from his toward France, the League of Nations madness, or before? In Shan-tung breaks down, and some years hence democracy's hopes hang upon the prom- another war breaks out between France ise of a nation with a dangerous penchant and Germany. France will need Italy as for imperialism.
an ally; but with Fiume freshly in mind, Even this is a long catalogue, and it is how will Italy feel toward France? If only a selection at random. In common France would not trust to the League of with the rest of the world, Europe sees Nations without the promise of an this long agenda of unfinished business English-French-American alliance, is it after the peace conference made such strange that she has gone slowly in an ambitious attempt to settle all the taking any decisive stand on the Fiume major problems of the world's tangled matter that will alienate Italy as politics. It is only natural that the future ally? It is not a question of assight has produced a reaction against suming a holier-than-thou attitude and the Wilson idealism, since that idealism condemning France. Granted an honwas primarily responsible for making est disbelief in the protective power of the peace conference an agency for plac- the League of Nations, any nation would ing the whole life of the world on a new act as France is acting. France does basis. But this, after all, is only an not stand alone in this matter. All of abstract and instinctive reaction in the major Allied powers are showing a which Europe shares with the rest of the marked reluctance to take any very world. It makes no difference that much decisive action toward enforcing the of this reaction may be unreasonable, plain decrees of the peace conference placing blame where blame does not where those decrees run counter to the rest. It exists. And we are here casting aspirations of a people that might be up accounts, not passing judgment ex needed as an ally in a next war. Whether cathedra.
it is reluctance to oust D'Annunzio from But the European reaction against Fiume, the Rumanians from Budapest, the American idea in world politics has or decisively to handle the whole medley a specific and detailed side that we shall of unsettled questions left by the peace do well to keep in mind. We may think conference, there stands in the backthat the League of Nations, elementary ground the fear of any action that might and imperfect as it is, offers hope for a defeat the formation of future alliances. better system than the old competition The reaction of Europe against the in armaments; but the indisputable fact American peace, which has been growis that in Europe practical trust in the ing greater and greater with every week league as a means of protection during since the peace conference, is due prithe next ten years has been growing marily to these two causes—a general daily weaker.
instinctive reaction against an idealism
that attempted so much and accom- has invaded the rather sordid field of plished so little, and the unwillingness international politics for many moons. to follow American leadership to the But, then, D'Annunzio, the voluptuary point of alienating peoples that will be tuuned valiant, could not be other than needed as allies later.
diverting. He disputes with Cardinal When the first effect of this reaction Mercier and Albert the distinction of on our tired minds has worn off, our being the most dramatic figure of the sense of realism will return, and we shall war. see that while we fell far short of ac- D'Annunzio's every public act during complishing the ambitious results to- the war seemed somehow incomplete ward which we looked during the war, without footlights. His impassioned we did meet the immediate menace of appeal to the soul of Italy for entering German power gone mad, and we shall the war ended with a triumphant and then settle down to the slow process of theatrical flourish on May 17, 1915, achieving a better world through a when, at Campidoglio, he lifted to his change of mind as well as a change of lips the historic sword of Nino Bixio, machinery.
Garibaldi's associate, kissed it with ceremonial reverence, and shouted to
the mob: “The hour has come. Ring DRAMATIC D'ANNUNZIO
your bells!” He never failed to coin the TUCKED away in an obscure corner of electrifying phrase at a critical hour, our morning papers a while ago was the as when, during the sorry plight of the interesting information that the Italian- Italian Army in the autumn of 1917, he American State Executive Republican said, “Rather than give up Venice to Committee had issued to the Italian the enemy, let us raze it to the ground.” voters of New Jersey an appeal to His flight over Vienna in the autumn of “choose between the Democratic party 1918, when he showered upon the city with Wilson and the Republican party thousands of copies of his appeal to the with D'Annunzio.” Is this, perchance, Viennese, was another feat that stirred an illuminating commentary upon the the Italian imagination. And where increasing interdependence of a world can one find a better adventure story in which a problem of far-off Italy may than D'Annunzio's setting out with become an issue in American State thirty companions in three small vessels politics, or is it just a serio-comic side- to sail in under the very noses of the guns light on campaign ingenuity? At any of the Austrian fleet in the port of rate, it reminds us once more of the man Buccari to renew the Italian challenge who contrived to galvanize the wearied to the fleet to come into the open, throwattention of a whole world just emerged ing his sarcastic challenge, incased in a from a war that had reduced the sensa- bottle, into the waves? tional to the prosaic level of the usual. But can D'Annunzio be defined in
Some months ago when Gabriele terms of the dramatic alone? Can the D'Annunzio seized the disputed city of Fiume episode be dismissed as the mere Fiume, it was set down as the errant stage-strut of a quixotic temperament? prank of a mad poet. It was recalled Is he just a bucaneering claim-jumper that before the war D'Annunzio was going entirely on his own? To the first said to have asserted that he had sucked question his countrymen will answer, the world dry of its sensations and “No!" And in answering the latter it looked enviously upon death as a 're- is well to remember that international lease from boredom. So this lone-man politics is a game reduced to a science defiance of the entire diplomatic world, in which little leeway is left for the freethis single-handed nullification of the lance. There are grand adventures edicts of Versailles, this solitary hold-up without number in the game, but they of the nascent League of Nations was are usually adventure of plan rather credited to a search for sensation by a than of impulse. The most casual gesture blasé amorist to whom the war had been is likely to be calculated. one continuous orgy of dramatics. Cer- To the Italian masses D'Annunzio will tain it is that no more diverting incident always remain prophet extraordinary,