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Ambassador of Chile in the United States of America


If the neutrality of Chile be considered with calm judgment in the light of historical reality, it offers no occasion for surprise during the period that extended from the breaking out of the European War until the date at which the United States entered it as a belligerent, that is, from August, 1914, until April, 1917. It is in no wise surprising, I say, since the unneutrality of Chile would be inconceivable at that stage of the war, owing to the circumstances that existed at the time in our hemisphere. Beginning with the latter date, the neutrality of Chile, if, indeed, much less onerous, stands out as a more significant fact, because several of the Latin-American countries theoretically" adopted the attitude of the United States by declaring war upon the German Empire, while another group of these countries confined itself to breaking off diplomatic relations with that Power. Of the five republics that maintained their neutrality until the end, Chile was, without doubt, the one that had to show greater zeal to keep within the law and to retain the confidence that had always been reposed in her by the most powerful nations of the world.

I have said that the neutrality of Chile, up to April 6, 1917, does not constitute a strange historical phenomenon, because the entire American continent decided frankly in favor of neutrality from the breaking out of the war. No authority upon international law could condemn this attitude by germane arguments, nor would all the eloquence of sentiment possess weight against it.

The whole of America recognized that the situation of Europe was then almost unbearable because of the political and military rivalries of the great nations, and as a direct consequence of former wars that had produced what Lord Grey called “a peace of iron” and what Léon Bourgeois called “a peace without justice.” The conflict was not a mystery, but, rather, a certainty. It was a subject discussed with freedom in books and newspapers, even in the countries that cherished no sanguinary designs. Manifold proofs of the fact were offered by crises weathered with difficulty-thanks, at times, to generous sacrifices on the part of France, and, at others, because of the want of an aggressor.

What was not within the range of human prevision was the brutal manner in which the catastrophe was to be precipitated, its magnitude, its duration or its transcendency. At the outset, it was the general opinion that the war would be short, and therefore its disasters proportionate. It was never supposed that the combined efforts of all the great armies of the world, all its enormous available financial strength and all its sources of production—to say nothing of mortgaging the future-would be necessary to bring it to an end. That there might be an urgent need, consequently, of theoretical aid, not to mention even less, the positive aid, of the Latin-American peoples in behalf of the Allied cause, had not crossed the mind of any statesman of Europe or America.

The Powers that controlled the seas were well aware that the products of the American continent were at their disposal, and they also knew, without any express declaration, that English and French influence was already old in Latin America when German influence began its work. European literature prior to 1917, even the most impassioned, was not disturbed by the neutrality of Latin America. It was so easy to argue in favor of that neutrality and to explain it as something logical; and it would have been so unthinkable to claim that it was our duty to follow, without a peremptory cause, the fate of one of the belligerents, that no one took an interest in solving this perfectly obvious problem.

On the other hand, beholding the reality of events, it would have been folly to suppose that weak and defenseless nations would expose themselves to the attacks of a powerful enemy, at a period in which the belligerent squadrons of Europe still sailed the remote seas in strife for the control of them. It would have been a boastful and foolish act for any of our countries, moved by the impulse of a chivalry without precedents in the history of the world, to declare war upon Germany while that empire still maintained its fleets of armed vessels along our coasts. To have engaged in such an adventure while the one great nation of America did not do so, simply because grounds had not accumulated and because she did not possess the effective resources to give value to the act, would have signified that there existed in America no kind of international political equilibrium, inasmuch as any country was able to disturb it, with serious consequences. Admitting this hypothesis, a German naval division might have been able to begin hostilities upon the diminutive belligerent, and then the United States would have felt itself called upon to apply the Monroe Doctrine by mobilizing her navy, thus disturbing her political situation, and, as a consequence, doubtless jeopardizing the results which we have seen achieved since 1917. If, in the years of 1914 and 1915, any Latin-American Government had committed, of its own accord, the mistake of letting itself be drawn into the European War, or if it had abandoned its neutrality because of overt acts, it would certainly have prejudiced the interests of those it had intended to serve.

Let us now take up the question from another point of view.

It is nothing new to say that the United States exercises, and always has exercised, a profound moral influence over the policy of the Latin-American countries; above all, over the more cultivated and prosperous, as they are the ones which receive that influence without destroying their personality, but strengthening it, rather. From the time of Washington, the austere principles of the North American democracy have been an example for our public organisms. If we have been children of Europe intellectually, we have followed the evolution of North America constitutionally. There have existed misunderstandings, ill-will, suspicions and even crises between the United States and Latin America; but all this does not destroy the inevitable fact that a huge, highly organized and rich nation necessarily exercises authority over a group of small nations among which there are not many that have achieved a complete moral sovereignty.

Nor is it new to say that recent years have brought prosperity to what some call “The Pan-American policy,” that is, an effort at material and moral interpenetration in the New World, based upon solidarity. This "new policy," whose platform has already been constructed, will, with the passing of the years, sustain a magnificent edifice. Why demonstrate that the United States is the axis of this policy, and that upon her rectitude and morality, as the fosterer of it, depends the adhesion or the aloofness of the Latin-American countries !

Well, therefore, for this reason the neutrality of Chile, during what I call its first period (1914-1917), may not be judged without examining the neutrality of the United States, a nation which, because of her greatness, was within the orbit of the conflict.

Chile beheld, without the least doubt, the neutrality of the government at Washington as the most sincere expression of the law of nations. In the same manner, Chile recognized that the reasons that caused the United States to take part in the war were based upon justice and the exhaustion of all other means. Reciprocally, the United States ought to recognize that the reasons which she had for remaining neutral until April, 1917, were the same as or better than Chile had for maintaining neutrality until the end of the conflict.

In those days of anguish, when the shock of the great nations seemed to have overthrown the rights of the weak nations, the word of the President of the United States attained greater prestige than ever in Latin America, because in coöperating for the defense of the continent, the greater contribution would have to be made by the United States.

On August 18, 1914, President Wilson said, in a proclamation to the people of the United States :

Every man who really loves America will act and speak in the true spirit of neutrality, which is the spirit of impartiality and fairness and friendliness to all concerned. . . . I venture, therefore, my fellowcountrymen, to speak a solemn word of warning to you against that deepest, most subtle, most essential breach of neutrality which may spring out of partisanship, out of passionately taking sides. United States must be neutral in fact as well as in name during these days that are to try men's souls. We must be impartial in thought as well as in action, must put a curb upon our sentiments as well as upon every transaction that might be construed as a preference of one party to the struggle before another.

On April 20, 1915, at a meeting of the Associated Press in New York, President Wilson expressed himself in this manner:

The basis of neutrality is not indifference, it is not self-interest. The basis of neutrality is sympathy for mankind. It is fairness, it is good will, at bottom. It is impartiality of spirit and of judgment.

He added :

We are the mediating nation of the world. ... We are, therefore, able to understand all nations. . . . But I am interested in neutrality

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