13 November 1914
Letter Concerning William Jennings Bryan's Opinion of the Great War

Letter from Sir Cecil Spring-Rice to Sir Arthur Nicolson, concerning William Jennings Bryan's Opinion of the Great War.

'Bryan spoke to me about peace as he always does. He sighs for the Nobel Prize, and besides that he is a really convinced peaceman. He has just given me a sword beaten into a ploughshare six inches long to serve as a paper-weight. It is adorned with quotations from Isaiah and himself. No one doubts his sincerity, but that is rather embarrassing for us at the present moment, because he is always at us with peace propositions. This time, he said he could not understand why we could not say what we were fighting for. The nation which continued war had as much responsibility as the country which began it. The United States was the one great Power which was outside the struggle, and it was their duty to do what they could to put an end to it. -- I felt rather cross and said that the United States were signatories to the Hague Convention, which had been grossly violated again and again without one word from the principal neutral nation. They were now out of court. They had done nothing to prevent the crime, and now they must not prevent the punishment. --

He said that all the Powers concerned had been disappointed in their ambitions. Germany had not taken Paris. France had not retaken Alsace, England had not cleared the seas of the German navy. The last month had made no appreciable difference in the relative positions of the armies, and there was now no prospect of an issue satisfactory to any Power. Why should they not make peace now, if they had to make peace a year hence after another year's fruitless struggle. It would be far wiser if each said what it was fighting for and asked the United States to help them in arriving at a peaceful conclusion. --

I asked him if he thought that under present circumstances Germany would give up Belgium and compensate her for her suffering. If not, how could the United States Government go on record as condoning a peace which would put the seal on the most disgraceful act of tyranny and oppression committed in modern times? I didn't believe there was a man in the country not a German or a Jew who could advocate such a cause. --

He got rather angry and said that if that was what we wanted, why did we not say so. He added, Who can tell who was really responsible for what had happened in Belgium or whether the treaty wasn't only a pretext?' I reminded him that he was a great admirer of Gladstone, who was like him, a great lover of peace, and that Gladstone had always maintained that if we had gone to war for Belgium in 1870, we should have gone to war for freedom and for public right and to save human happiness from being invaded by a tyrannous and lawless power, and that in such a war as that while the breath continued in his body he was ready to engage. This rather surprised him as he had read in the newspapers that Gladstone had always maintained that the Belgian Treaty was not binding."

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