The commoner. (Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-1923, March 01, 1915, Page 6, Image 6

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The Commoner
VOL.. 15, NO. 3
Counselor Lansing's Address
(Address delivered by Hon. Robert Lansing,
counselor for the state department, at Amherst
alumni dinner, New York, February 24, 1915.)
in my correspondence about this dinner I was
askod to say something of my work In Washing
ton. At the same time I was given to under
stand that, as there were to be five speakers, the
time of each would necessarily be short. Now
that was a very kind thing to do, and ought to
bo done more often to those called upon to speak
Rt dinners at least for the sake of those who
have to listen. However, In this case the sugges
tion that I talk about my work In Washington
placed a limit upon my remarks. What I know
most about, what I am thinking of constantly,
what I am full of in fact, are the very subjects
which I can not talk about.
It is my duty, as many of you know, to deal
with the questions of international law and us
age, which are arising every day in our relations
with other countries. These questions are of ab
sorbing interest and many of them are extremely
complex because this war in its magnitude and
methods is different from all the wars which have
gone before. One can look in vain for pre
cedents in many cases. In fact we have to aban
don precedent, that time honored refuge of ju
rists and diplomatists, and lay hold of the bed
rock of principle. Diplomacy today is wrestling
with novel problems, to which it must apply na
tural justice and practical common sense.
This great conflict has introduced the sub
marine, the aeroplane, the wireless telegraph and .
new forms of explosives. It has made mechan
ical motive powor an absolute necessity in mil
itary operations. The old strategy of surprise
has gl' n place to mobility. The petroleum prod
ucts, i -jential to rapid motion in the air, on
land, and beneath the sea, are as necessary to a
modern army and navy as arms and ammunition.
NewT vices for communication and transporta-
-4ion.,6 used now for the first time in war, and
liew rodes of attack are employed.
The" result is that neutral nations have had .to
meet ? aeries of problems, which have never, been
solved. The liability of error, the danger of un
intentional partiality, and the constant complaint
of one or another of the belligerents make the
path of, neutrality rough and uncertain.
In addition to these dangers which beset the
way of a neutral, it is impossible to proceed with
that deliberation, which would appear to be the
part of wisdom. Things have to be done, not
studied, these days. The motto "Do it now" is
not a piece of advice in the department of state.
It is a command. A question, which is a week
old, is ancient history. Considering the custom
ary slow and dignified ways of diplomacy, this
"touch and go" method of doing business was a
decided innovation, and compelled a radical
change in the machinery through which our for
eign affairs are conducted.
When the war began early last August the de
partment of state, amply equipped for its work
in times of peace, was forced to reorganize im
mediately to meet the new conditions and the
enormous increase of its business. With tens of
thousands of Americans in Europe clamoring to
get home, with the majority of the belligerents
turning over their affairs to our diplomatic rep
resentatives, with banking credits gone, and with
telegraphic communications uncertain and diffi
cult, the difficulties of the situation were stag
gering. New bureaus were hastily created. The
departmental force with many inexperienced re
cruitB worked days, nights and Sundays. The
correspondence of the department increased ten
fold The whereabouts and welfare of probably
100,000 Americans wore sought for anxious
friends. Credits were established" in the various
European capitals and hundred of thousands of
dollars were transmitted to stranded Americans
While this was going on at Washington, our
embassies, legations and consulates were taxed
beyond their capacity not only in caring for our
people but in caring for the interests of other na
tions confided to them. All at once the depart
ment of state found itself the diplomatic clearing-house
of the world as well as the banker,
transportation agent, and medium of communi
cation for Americans abroad. And, while these
new responsibilities were thrust upon it, ques
tions of neutral rights and neutral duties were
toeing presented to the department every day,
which required immediate answer. That the de
partment of state was able to meet these extra
ordinary conditions is common knowledge.
As to the achievements of our diplomatic and
consular officers abroad I need add no word of
praise. You all know how much they did and
how well they did it. A more splendid example
of American capacity, adaptability and general
efficiency will be hard to find in our history. And
let me remind you that of our diplomats in Eu
rope who have won such universal praise, Mr.
Herridk alone had had diplomatic experience,
and even his had been for only a short period.
Yet in their intercourse with foreign govern
ments in these trying circumstances when every
body seemed to be suffering with hysteria, they
showed a tact and discretion which measured up
to the best diplomatists of any country.
And this suggests a subject, concerning which
I wish to say just a word.
The newspapers have recently given a good
deal of prominence to addresses and articles ad
vocating that our diplomatic officers be brought
under civil service rules in the same way that
the entire consular service thanks to President
Wilson is regulated in the matter of appoint
ments and promotions. I must say that the em
phatic opinions of some of our former represent
atives are rather amusing, when one considers
that they would never have been appointed un
der civil service rules.
I won't discuss the value of their opinions, or
how much weight should be given to such au
thorities. The trouble is that they, as well as
other advocates of the system, start out on
wrong premises. Chief of these, I think, Is the
idea that an ambassador or minister never acts
independently, and his only duty is to repeat
words put in his mouth by the department of
state, that he has no more initiative 'than a con
sular officer. Now that idea is a common one;
it is quite generally believed. If it were true, a
permanent diplomatic . corps would be just the
thing. The fact is, it is a fallacy. Successful
diplomacy requires today individual initiative
and sound judgment, as it always has. It is the
man of force, of originality, of personality, who
becomes distinguished in the diplomatic service.
On men of that character the success of the ad
ministration's foreign policies depend. They
must also be men who comprehend those policies,
who are in hearty sympathy with them, and who
are enthusiastic and untiring in carrying them
out. Now that goes a good deal beyond .merely
obeying orders.
Of course what I have said does not apply to
the subordinate officers of the diplomatic ser
vice. I am referring to ambassadors and minis
ters, not to secretaries. There is no doubt in the
case of secretaries competitive examinations for
appointments and promotions work well. I am
not sure that the system might not be extended
to some of the less important missions. But,
when it comes to the principal posts abroad, I
am strongly opposed to tying the hands of the
president in any way.
Success in diplomacy depends so much on tem
perament, on reputation, on characteristics which
have won distinction in other fields of enterprise
that it would be most unwise to restrict the pres
idential power. If we had obtained all our am
bassadors and ministers by promotion, we would
not have had such men at London as E. J. Phelns
and Joseph H. Choate, or in the present crisis
men like Myron T. Herrick and Brand Whitlock.
Such men- inexperienced in diplomatic practice
but equijfped with qualities which command re
spect and achieve success, are tho ones who have
brought lustre to American diplomacy.
I realize that sometimes mistakes will be'made,
and that some of tho untried diplomats sent
abroad are failures; that is natural; but after
nearly twenty-five years of more or less intimate
acquaintance with the department of state I can
nay that the largo majority tho very forge ma
jority of our diplomatic representatives have
maintained the dignity and standard of excel
lence, which, has in the past characterized the
diplomatic service of the United States.
Now what I have said will not, I know, meet-'
with the approval of. all or you. The idea of
competitive, examinations for public service is
pretty deeply embedded in popular favor. It has
in a measure proventod public office, from bein
the victim of favoritism. But it Should not go
too far. The president Is responsible to the pen
plo for tho conduct of our foreign affairs. Ho
should bo free to choose his agents where he will.
They should be his friends, and in full harmony
with the ideas and aspirations of his administra
tion, who have a personal interest in carrying
out the president's will.
I have used up a good deal of my time in dis
cussing this" subject of diplomatic appointments
because I feel very strongly the injustice of the
crticisms which have been made of. the president
and Secretary Bryan in regard to their failure
to retain in the posts abroad men who were
named by former administrations and who could
not be expected to give hearty support to pol
icies with which they had no sympathy.
You may think that I have adopted -too serious
a vein for an occasion of this sort, when we are
celebrating the glories of old Amherst and listen
ing to the good old songs which we can never
forget. But, men of Amherst, these are critical
days for our country; how critical only those who
are in intimate touch with affairs can fully real
ize. It is a time for serious thought, a tinfe of
anxiety. The greatest war of all history is being
waged with a disregard for human life and a fe
rocity unparalleled in the annals of war. Nations
seem to have returned to primitive barbarism.
Rights of individuals and of nations are swept
aside in this gigantic struggle which is devastat
ing all Europe. Neutrals as well as belligerents
are bearing the burden. The commercial and in
dustrial life of the whole world is affected.
My friends, as we sit here enjoying the pleas
ures of the table, with our hearts lightened by
memories of our college days and warmed by
affection for our Alma Mater, who can fqrget the
trenches of northern France, where hundreds of
thousands of our fellow men are enduring incon
ceivable sufferings? Who can forget the wound
ed and dead in the snows of Poland, or the inno
cent victims starving midst the ruins of their
homes in Belgium and Galacla.
Could there be a more striking contrast? This
assemblage in luxurious surroundings with the
spirit of old Amherst inspiring good fellowship
and genial thoughts; and the host of gaunt, hag
gard soldiers in their narrow trenches awaiting
death with a fortitude which neither hunger nor
cold is able to lessen, much less conquer.
It is the contrast of a people at peace and a
people at war. Never have the nations witnessed
so unaswerable an argument for universal peace
as tho stupendous conflict which is wasting the
virility and resources of the great nations of Eu
rope. Peace should become and will become the
great standing policy of the new civilization
which will rise from the ashes of this war.
Today, when nations are swayed with unreas
oning passion, when prejudice blinds them, when
they "see red," when they misjudge their friends
as well as their foes, is the time for us to avoid
harsh judgment, to preserve calmness in dealing
with them and to curb the natural resentment
which arises when our acts are misinterpreted
and we are charged with wrong motives and pur- '
As American citizens, we can not be too thank
ful that, in this world crisis, when the lives of
nations are in the balance, when civilized stand
ards seem crumbling, we have a president whom
we can trust to deal with the momentous and
difficult problems of the hour with wisdom, jus
tice and patience, having equal regard for all and
favor toward none, uninfluenced by popular clam
or, unswerving in his determination to maintain
the strict neutrality which this government has
preserved throughout this war.
Amherst has always stood for a sturdy Amer
icanism, for an unswerving loyalty to our couii4
try, for an abiding faith in American institutions
and American ideals. That is the true Amherst
spirit. That is the best gift that Amherst has
given to her sons. And in- these days which try
men's souls, when empires are locked in a life-and-death
struggle, and when the days to come
bear for this country a menace as well as a prom
ise, this spirit must be our inspiration and guide
in working out our national destiny.
One of the most far reaching and important
laws passed by the congress that has just ad
journed will not be found listed in any of the
compilations of its activities because it did not
involve any political question. This was the law
that aims to crush the traffic in habit-forming
"drugs by limiting its sale under physicians' pre
scriptions. It provides a means by which the
revenue officers have been aWo to locate all sup
plies and to supervise their J disposition. The
drug habit has been increasing alarmingly among
various classes, and this law tz intended to put
an effective curb upon an evil growing almost as
great as that of drink. " '
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