Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

avenue to the desired results. In the meantime onlookers are in no better position to judge this subject conclusively than the people whom it principally concerns.

Peace and civilization are the boasted ensigns of the Englishspeaking family of nations. If war we must, let not only the cause be just, but the manner of warfare honourable. The example of amelioration in the laws and practice of war may compensate to some extent for the breach which war makes in the edifice of civilization.

The war, only formally announced by a resolution of the United States Congress, after the United States fleet had made a number of captures of unsuspecting merchantmen, rather too nearly approached the Irish rule of commencing hostilities with "A word and a blow—the blow first." Writers on international law have sought to prescribe much more deliberate formalities as necessary to the making of a lawful war. Learned disquisitions on the denunciatio belli to the enemy and the declaratio belli to the neutral nations were founded on the dignified if somewhat cumbrous procedure of the ancient Roman Republic and its successor the Roman Empire. Much of this theory has little to do with modern practice. Dignity and courtesy and disdain of mean surprise are desirable rules to maintain even in war. But when nations do not choose to observe such rules, nice customs perforce "courtesy to great kings.”

An enlightened patriotism must surely blush at the shout of exultation and acclamation sent up by the press of a great Christian nation over each of those pitiful captures. Sentiments of humanity revolt against the sordid calculation of gains, which mean the ruin of a few enterprising merchants-protestants, perhaps, against the war—the interruption of honest industry, and the beggary of unemployed seamen.

Americans could hardly have read with pride of the surprise, by American cruisers and battleships, of innocent merchantmen under the Spanish flag, actually in advance of a formal declaration of war, and certainly without the favourable period of warning which modern civilized practice sanctions. Fortunately for American credit, these premature seizures seem to have been practically disavowed by the terms of the President's proclamation. But the whole scope of the proclamation is an authority to United States Naval Commanders to prey upon Spanish merchant ships and their contents. In other words it is an instruction to continue the capture of private property at sea, in a war which may close the record of the nineteenth century.

No two nations in the world are likely in the future to have so vast an interest in establishing the immunity of private commerce as the British Empire and the United States. When the channels between the Great Lakes and the sea are deepened, as they infallibly must be, the United States will possess the best facilities in the world for the building of steel shipping. Before many decades pass a vast share of the trade of the Clyde and the Tyne may have been shifted to the shores of Lake Erie. A ship-building nation will soon be a ship-owning nation. In some future war the United States may bitterly regret that they did not in good time lay an effectual foundation, by their own example, for protesting against the lawfulness of national piracy.

The United States, whose fleet was in such haste to begin the work of maritime spoilation, formerly signalized themselves by proposing the neutralization of private property at sea.

In 1856 they stood alone as the advocates of the total abolition of the right of capture.

International law grows by the practice of nations more surely than by paper rules and formal conventions. The present war was, and may yet be, an opportunity for the United States to make, by its own conduct, a first precedent in striking the right of capture from the list of the permitted iniquities of warfare.

The standard of what is honourable and lawful in the defence or enforcement of national rights by war has fortunately long been an advancing one. Nations have left to foreign tribes many methods which were permissible to the great nations of antiquity. We seek on the field to win battles rather than to destroy men. We have long ceased to sell vanquished nations into slavery, or to put the entire population of captured cities to the sword. We have gone, by common consent, much farther than this. It would no doubt surprise Wallenstein to learn that we no longer permit the sacking of an enemy's town. As far as possible private property is unharmed by an invading army. Subsisting an army upon the plunder of farmers and townsmen is no longer avowed as an ordinary maxim of warfare.

It is only at sea that the ancient principle that war is principally an opportunity for legalized plunder still obtains.

It is a maxim which the civilization of our country has already shaken

upon its throne. The principles of the Paris Convention in 1856 were a great advance on the universal practice of the past. The United States, Spain and the Spanish Republics declined at that time to accept those terms. It is so far satisfactory that both Spain ard the United States, though not among the signatories to that convention, have now definitely adhered to most of the rules. Neutral ships protect enemy's goods, and neutral goods do not share the fate of the enemy's ships in which they are found. Both combatants have so far regarded the Declaration of the Paris Convention against privateering. Their hesitation is a deference to the conscience of the nations, and the augury is favourable for confirmation, through their action, of the righteous prohibition of one of the most indefensible wrongs and brutalities of war. It is understood that influence to this end was used by the British Government both upon the United States and Spain. We may be proud that the first fruit of the rapprochement of English-speaking opinion has been to lead two governments to stay their hands from perpetuating the barbarous expedient of legitimatized piracy.

It is not surprising that the United States Government should hesitate to introduce this retrograde practice into the present war. It is the glory of the English-speaking race, since the days of John Howard, that it has led the way by national and voluntary effort in the work of redeeming and diminishing the criminal classes. It would ill become the land of prison reform to authorize the education of a race of corsairs. Even in the bitterness of the war of 1812 the issue of letters of marque was authorized against the protest of a numerous minority of right-feeling people in the nation. President McKinley has not desired to leave recorded against his country a more barbarous disposition, at the close of the nineteenth century, than prevailed in its first quarter.

Though a distinct gain has been made towards the humanization of war, it ought not, for the honour of our race, to be the only one. So far, the United States have merely brought their action up to the standard set by the great European Powers in 1856. Nearly thirty years have elapsed since two great nations have been at war. Has a whole generation of civilization no advance to record in the regulation of hostilities? The tendency of international law aims at limiting the scope both in time and place of the destructive effects of a state of hostilities. On the field we seek to disable men, not to kill them. We occupy territories but do not devastate them. Modern warfare tends to respect the property as well as the lives of non-combatants on land, and the logic surely applies with not less force to private property afloat.

Not only humanity but economics claim a voice in the matter. A war of destruction is a war against mankind; because a loss of real wealth is a loss to all the world. The wealth fund and the labour market of the world are really universal. When commerce is destroyed and enterprise plunged into ruin, sooner or later the wave of sinking will reach the farthest shores. The damage from public as from private plunder is out of proportion to the profits. There is loss in the disposition both of stolen and of captured goods. The thief is obliged to realize his booty at a great dis

The cargoes of captured ships are diverted from markets where they are in demand, to be sacrificed at ports where they are not wanted. In the complexities of modern commerce the loss by no means necessarily falls upon the enemy. The insurers may be citizens of a friendly nation; they may even be subjects of the capturing power. War risks make high freight rates; and the added cost must be taken out of the living of the people.

· What gains may be reaped will be reaped by a few; whatever loss is in fact occasioned must infallibly fall upon the many. Well might the people of these nations uplift their allied voices in protest against the continuation in this war of the most wasteful of its practices. It is only the continued silent acquiescence of civilized nations that veils the hideousness of the law of capture, and protects it from irresistible condemnation.

The real root of the practice is to be found in the fact that wars were originally simply plundering expeditions. When the advance of civilization, and the settlement of tribes into nations, led to the foundation of a science of international law, the early writers were compelled to invent an artificial basis for this survival of the simple usages of barbarism. This is how they endeavoured to accomplish it:

"When the sovereign or ruler of the state," wrote Vattel, Bk. III., Ch. 5., "declares war against another sovereign, it is understood that the whole nation declares war against another nation; for the sovereign represents the nation, and acts in the name of the whole society, and it is only in a body, and in her national character, that one nation has to do with another. Hence these two nations are enemies, and all the subjects of the one are enemies to all the subjects of the other. When once we have precisely determined who our enemies are," he continues, "it is easy to know what are the things belonging to the enemy (res hostiles).

We have shown that not only the sovereign with whom we are at war is an enemy, but also his whole nation, even the very women and children. Everything, therefore, which belongs to that nationto the state, to the sovereign, to the subjects, of whatever age or sex-everything of that kind, I say, falls under the description of things belonging to the enemy.”

How does this amiable doctrine stand in the light of later civilization ? Are we now prepared to admit that because our respective Governments are at war it becomes our duty as citizens to set our hand against every man in the opposite nation ? Are we to consider not only every man but every woman and child as our personal enemy?

The argument for privateering adduced by the Government of the United States, in 1812, in answer to the protest of many of their people, was very frankly founded on this doctrine. It was pleaded that as the purpose of war is to damage and injure the enemy until he submits to the wishes of the belligerent nation, therefore it was as lawful and righteous to damage him by spoilation of the private property of his subjects, as by demolishing his forts and attacking his armies. The argument was used to justify privateering. If disaffirmed, it makes the same ravages indefensible, whether inflicted by privateersmen or by men-of-war. The argument answered then. That it will not answer as well now is prover by the condemnation of privateering, agreed to by a majority of European nations in 1856, and now confirmed, by the adhesion to that principle of two of the group of nations which formerly dissented from the Paris declaration.

The true trend of modern thought was thus stated by Professor Robertson, as early as 1881 : “That the non-combatant portions of the two communities should remain as though they were in a state of peace, is the principle towards which international law appears to be tending. The movement against privateering is an illustration of this tendency. In war carried on by land, non-combatants are as far as possible kept out of the sphere of operations-only persons under public military command being regarded as combatants. In naval warfare it has long been recognized as a valid mode of conducting hostilities to grant "letters of marque” to private vessels, owned, manned and officered by private gangs of free-booters. The Treaty of Paris of 1856 contains

« AnteriorContinuar »