THE AMERICAN WAY IN WAR
"It would be not merely foolish but wicked for us as a nation to agree to arbitrate any dispute that affects our vital interest or our independence or our honor."--THEODORE ROOSEVELT, 1911
THE EXPERIENCE of the American people, as earlier noted, gives little support to the popular fallacy that democracies are less likely to provoke war than other forms of government. We are undeniably more peace-loving than other nations in the sense that we plunge into war without adequate preparation. Someone has well said that we are a warlike but unmilitary people.
The brutal truth is that the citizens of a democracy are at times the hardest and most unreasonable bargainers. Without give and take there can be no successful international negotiation in peacetime, and the American people, not properly appreciating this principle, are likely to demand all take and no give. The masses of any country are less prone to prevision than the leaders of an absolutist government. While a dictator may provoke a war with Machiavellian motives, he is less apt than the mob to embark upon a war of impulse or passion. Hitler appeared to be an exception when he attacked Poland in a fit of exhausted patience, but up to that point his plans had certainly been laid with diabolical cunning.
A further glimpse at the record is rewarding. In 1812 England was a monarchy (though the last bulwark of constitutionalism in Europe), and she did not want war with us, but our "War Hawks" got out of hand and we found ourselves fighting at the side of the Hitler of the Napoleonic era. In 1898 the Spanish monarchy did not want war with us, and was doing all it decently could to avert hostilities, but public pressure in America forced President McKinley's hand. Both of these conflicts, aggressively declared by the American democracy upon a reluctant monarchy, were wars of impulse, and as such could theoretically have been avoided.
One may conclude that during certain periods democracies have been known to fight more often, more irrationally, and over more trivial causes than certain contemporary monarchies. Much more depends on circumstances than on form of government. A designing dictator will fight when his interests are vitally touched; the masses of a democracy will demand war (and get it) when they think, whether correctly or not, that their interests are critically threatened. The citizens of a democracy may be oversensitive on points of national honor, they may be subject to the terrifying whims of mob psychology, but, unlike the dictator, they cannot engage in a mass conspiracy against the peace. A mass conspiracy is a contradiction in terms.