A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

By C. R. M. F. Cruttwell | Go to book overview

XXI ATTEMPTS TO NEGOTIATE PEACE 1916-1917

I

MODERN war resembles the infernal gods of Greece of whom it was written 'they are better at catching than at letting go'.1 When the life of nations is so profoundly affected and transformed, when the vast sacrifices arouse the bitterest hatreds and demand the fulfilment of great expectations, the efforts of kings and statesmen, even if sincere, can avail little against the floods let loose. Inasmuch as war is not now waged for limited objects, nothing but absolute victory seems a justification for breaking it off; and until it has been gained a compromised peace is regarded as an unwarranted defeat by all the belligerents. It follows inevitably that the pacific influence of neutrals, never very great, was by this time, in the greatest of all wars, reduced almost to nothing. Each belligerent, confident of being in the right, regarded neutrality as a denial of moral principles, adopted merely for selfish interests.

The only great neutral Power, America, was particularly open to these shafts. The Central Powers pointed to the loans and ammunition which flowed across the Atlantic as a proof of her cautious malevolence. The Entente considered her hypocrisy to be patent because she had refused to protest against the violation of Belgium, and her honour to be compromised by her acceptance of the sinking of the Lusitania without an immediate declaration of war. President Wilson was widely accepted as the embodiment and director of this sordid ideal. No phrase was quoted with more contemptuous bitterness than his statement that the American people 'were too proud to fight'. Nevertheless the President, who had been anxiously

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1
οἱ κάτω θεοὶ λαβεῖν ἀμείνους εἰσὶν ἤ μεθιέναι.-- Euripides.

-359-

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