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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

War and peace | The Solicitors' Journal – August 1, 1914

War and peace | The Solicitors' Journal – August 1, 1914


Europe is once again faced with the actuality of war; a war which may be localized or which may have tremendous consequences, and the outbreak has been too sudden for the moderating influences which might have been brought to bear upon the belligerent countries to have their full effect.

Unfortunately, modern statesmanship still tolerates war as a permissible means of settling national disputes, and this will continue to be so until public opinion has been educated sufficiently to demand the absolute prohibition of the appeal to force, save by united action against some recalcitrant state.

The leading members of the present British Government have all invited the pressure of opinion in this direction. To quote two recent instances:- "I see no remedy at the moment," said Sir Edward Grey, speaking on the 10th of July on the question of expenditure on armaments, "except a sense that public opinion generally, when things become quite intolerable, will come to the rescue." "Europe," said the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the 23rd of July, "is spending 350 million a year upon the machinery of slaughter…. It would really make one despair of the common sense of nations to imagine that that state, not of armed peace, but of armaments which are equivalent to war, can go on."

And now the machinery of slaughter, with all the criminal and sordid details that make up war, is put in action. It is too late for common sense and civilization - to say nothing of religion and morality - to appeal to the actual combatants. But we may hope this war will be made against the occasion for a great manifestation of public opinion against slaughter as a means of asserting the will of governments. For no government is entitled to assume from the frenzied exhibition of unreasoning passion, which is called the war fever, that it is asserting the will of the sane portion of its subjects.

The policy of international co-operation has, indeed, been carried too far for war to be recognized much longer as possible. A significant instance of this occurred in the Russian Supplement of the Times on the 27th of July, in an article on the recent gathering at Paris of municipal representatives from Great Britain, Spain, and Russia. "Besides the community of interests displayed at the meeting at Paris," says the Times correspondent, "another important matter that might benefit mankind was there clearly defined. All the persons there gathered together were found to be convinced advocates of peace - 'Pacificists' in the broad sense of the world.

This fact appears to be a very natural one, and I cannot picture to myself any large city where the magistrates would regard war either as desirable or as profitable to the people entrusted to their care." We cannot say who invented the word "Pacificist"; it is unknown to Sir James Murray's Dictionary; presumably it was introduced because Peace-maker has associations too hallowed for common use. But the meaning is the same, and the words have only the one broad sense.

The fundamental truth which the Times has the credit of emphasizing is that, as between men of different nations who have responsible duties to perform, war is an idea abhorrent to humanity and good government. We hope our contemporary will succeed in pointing the moral that governments which resort to war are opposed to all the opinion of the age that ought to count.

Of course, we are aware that, technically, International Law justifies war as a necessary evil in the absence of any controlling authority to which disputes can be referred; and notwithstanding that war is the negation of law, rules of a sort have been evolved for its conduct. We do not say that these are useless. They serve a practical end, and are an approach to a better state of things. It is a settled principle, for instance, that war cannot be entered upon without previous negotiation, and the Hague Conference of 1907 got so far as to re-establish the rule, well-known in former times, that war must not be commenced without a formal declaration.

In the present case there have been negotiations, and the required declaration has been made. To that extent the position has been regularized. And no doubt, for practical purposes, it is useless to say that Austria should have accepted the arbitration which Servia proposed, and for which the Hague Conventions furnish full facility. As long as governments imagine that matters of honour are not suitable for arbitration that procedure forfeits its chief value. But the imagination is vain. War settles no point of honour. Honour is as likely to be with the vanquished as the victors. But the idea is deep rooted, and the horrors and waste of the present struggle - horrors for the countries whose Governments have brought them to this pass; and waste for the rest of the civilized world - will not be without compensation if they do something to eradicate it.

Of course we are aware of the practical difficulties. One state cannot disarm alone; and what we say may seem mere idealism, and useless doctrine for a world in arms. In particular, it is useless in the present struggle between "furious Serb and fiery Hun," to adapt a phrase from lines which have touched supremely the tragedy of war. But it is the sort of idealism which, under the steady pressure of public opinion - French, German and British - will win, and we know no class of men better qualified than lawyers to direct that opinion.