Vintage Audio - On The League of Nations

Newton Baker Click to download as MP3

Reproduced below is the speech recorded by the U.S. Secretary of War Newton Baker in 1919 entitled On the League of Nations.

In spite of his wartime portfolio Baker's background included publicly stated pacifist sentiments.  He was therefore a supporter of Democratic President Woodrow Wilson's plan for a post-war League of Nations (in the face of determined and ultimately successful Republican Party opposition) as a means of settling international disputes, thereby avoiding a repeat of the 1914-18 war into which the U.S. was eventually drawn in 1917.

Use the player above to listen to a recording of Baker's speech from 1919.

On the League of Nations

The speculated doubt and the fears of the timid with regard to the treaty and the League of Nations have now all been discussed.  The great document which the president brought back from Paris has been analyzed and dissected in the cold atmosphere of higher criticism, but little has been said about the life of the document itself, the necessity for a new order in our diplomatic and international relations.

One might almost suppose from the discussion that the literary merits of the paper were the chief points of interest.

Meantime, it is necessary to remember that the lack of such a league in 1914 threw the world into the chaos of this war.  Terrified statesmen endeavoured to sustain the delicately poised balance of power.  They ran here and there, uttering their old-time cautions and speaking with pathetic diligence for what they called a formula that would compose the mad impulses which were threatening to engulf the world.

They failed because the means were not adapted to the ends - because in the modern world, things move too fast for the stagecoach diplomacy of the Middle Ages.

Had there been a League of Nations then, could Sir Edward Grey have summoned into conference the authoritative representatives of the great civilized powers, and through them have focused the intelligence and the conscience of mankind on the Austro-Serbian quarrel?

There would have been gained the priceless moment of meditation which would have enabled the heady currents of racial and national passion to be allayed.  Today there would be in all in the devastated countries of the world that calm progress which a continuation of peaceful civilization ensures.

Billions of wealth, now utterly lost and destroyed, would still be in existence to comfort and enrich the life of nations, and millions of men, women, and children, gunned to death in battle, or carried away by famine and pestilence, would still be alive to enjoy the normal portion of human happiness and to contribute by their labour and their love to the making of a better world.

The four horsemen of the apocalypse rode abroad in the world, taking their toll among the fairest and best of the children of men, only because their was no bridle, no League of Nations to restrain their wild and destructive force.

The question of this hour therefore is not whether a classically phrased and inerrant document has been drawn, but whether the fairest hope of men shall be realized.  If we have but the goodness and the faith necessary to make any league of nations work, we can make this one work.

The people will furnish the faith, if the statesmen will but stand aside.  Thus only can we match our works with the devotion of our soldiers, and gather for their children the fruits of their sacrifice and their victories.

A "British warm" was a heavy issue greatcoat for officers.

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