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Emil Ludwig: Dialogue on “humanitarian war”

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

German writers on peace and war

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Emil Ludwig
From Genius and Character (1927)
Translated by Kenneth Burke

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[Woodrow] Wilson (gesticulating more vigorously): Behind me was an unsure country, shaken by conflicting emotions, and repeatedly aroused by the stupid and insane acts of the German navy; and in front of me was an indignant Congress which shouted for war at first, but later grew frightened at its own uproar. You know these difficulties –

[George] Washington (smiling): This institution, which we established, was abusing me even in my old age, when a marble statue of me was already standing in the public square. The facts of history develop a kindly patina, until the nation and its heroes are thought to have been in perfect accord. As a matter of fact, every statesman has considered his own nation ungrateful. You, as a student of Kant and Rousseau, must have been completely disorganized by the turmoil of war.

Wilson: I was not! You are wrong, Mr. Washington! There is not a single word of pacifism in any of my books! In contradistinction to Kant, my way of peace is by means of protections and punishments. My League guards right with might. It was for this reason that I could call it the aim of America before we entered the conflict! For it was only in this way, by showing the world our growing preparedness, that we could escape the odium of weakness or cowardice when we counseled arbitration. Otherwise we should have been in the gruesomely comic situation of missionaries who, when under attack, merely cry out in the name of their God, as though He were minded to intercede.

Washington: Perhaps He is. Cannons are necessary in case that He is not.

Wilson: Since I was no means sure of Him, I built ships and cannons.

Washington: You are not – a believer, Mr. Wilson?

Wilson: I – I believe in the progress of reason.

Washington: In our day, before making decisions, we prayed and fasted.

Wilson: I do not fast, but I do not shoot either.

Washington (smiling): Pas trop mal pour le lendemain de Versailles! You were speaking of the League?

Wilson: The masses were waiting for a slogan. You know the feeling: when they look at you questioningly, attentively waiting for the right word. Prussia’s tyrannical policies were looked upon everywhere as an obstacle to peace. In order to suppress them, we had to destroy all possibility of their recurrence. It was necessary that all nations be compelled to accept peace. That was the aim of the first League for which, long before we entered the war, I became the spokesman, making its principles popular enough to awaken a dream in the hearts of a hundred million people and to form an ideal in their minds. When I first proclaimed the principles of the League, I did so to make people ripe for war. While I was pointing to eternal peace in the clouds, I was asking Congress for troops and ammunition…

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