Pan-Americanism and the War

By Dana G. Munro

[The North American Review, November 1918]

From the beginning of the war in Europe, the sentiment of the majority of the people of South and Central America has been pro-Ally. France, the great contemporary representative of Latin culture, naturally commanded the sympathy of a group of nations which for a century had drawn upon her for inspiration in literature, science and art. England had long held the leading place in the commercial and financial relations of the southern continent, and was liked and respected. German Weltpolitik and German Kultur, on the other hand, were conceptions which the Latin Americans could neither understand nor appreciate. Germany's attack on her neighbors appeared to them an unprovoked and unjustifiable aggression—a defiance of all those principles of international law which the weaker countries of America had rightly regarded as the sacred and indispensable guarantee of their own independent existence.

German diplomatic agents made a determined attempt to change the prevailing point of view by a propaganda which in scope and assiduousness far surpassed that undertaken by any of the Entente Allies. Until the British blockade almost entirely cut off communication with the home country, great quantities of periodicals, printed in Spanish and copiously illustrated, were distributed among the people of the various countries, and many native newspapers, through purchase or bribery, were made advocates of the Teutonic cause. This work was seconded by the endeavors of the numerous and generally respected German commercial colonies, who used all of their personal and financial influence to check the growth of pro-Ally sentiment. In most of the Latin American republics, however, this propaganda had relatively little effect. The inability of the Latin mind to comprehend the Teutonic point of view, and the accumulating and irrefutable evidence of the barbarities committed by the invading armies in Belgium and France, made worse than futile the efforts of official propagandists and paid agitators to win sympathy for the German cause.

Until the beginning of 1917, however, the sentiment in favor of the Allies was little more than that of a deeply interested spectator. The conflict was regarded as one which concerned Europe alone, although it inflicted severe hardships upon many non-European countries, and there was no thought that any of the American Governments might find itself compelled to abandon the neutrality which each had naturally assumed at the beginning of hostilities. The situation changed with the events which led to the declaration of war upon Germany by the United States. The proclamation of unrestricted submarine warfare was a blow, not only against the rights and the honor of all neutrals, but against the vital interests of countries so dependent upon foreign commerce as are the majority of the Latin American, republics. Germany's action, and the response of the United States, had given a new aspect to the conflict, to which it was impossible for the other nations of the continent to remain indifferent.

Jealousy of North American leadership, and a certain amount of resentment because the Washington Government had previously refused to co-operate with them in adopting a common policy for the defense of neutral rights, made many of the South and Central American governments reluctant to accede at once to President Wilson's suggestion that they follow the example of the United States in severing diplomatic relations with Germany, but nearly all of them nevertheless officially expressed their cordial approval of our action. Two of our nearest neighbors at once prepared to render active military aid, while several others proffered the use of their harbors for our naval forces. As the summer passed, one nation after another broke off relations with Germany or formally abandoned its neutrality. An examination of their state papers and of the correspondence from them in the files of the State Department at Washington, and a study of the press of the Latin American capitals during the last twelve months, makes it clear that the attitude of our southern neighbors towards the war since April, 1917, has been influenced not only by the losses which they themselves have suffered as the result of the submarine campaign, but also by their friendship for the United States. It was impossible, they declared, for them to hold aloof when their great neighbor was engaged in a struggle for the defense of its rights against aggression by a European Power. The Latin American republics which have spontaneously offered us their support have been inspired by a new ideal of Pan-Americanism, the depth and the force of which have not been adequately appreciated in the United States.

The first country to act was Cuba. Her Congress declared war on Germany, by a unanimous vote, on April 7, 1917, after President Menocal had declared that the Republic could neither remain indifferent to that country's violations of the rights of neutral nations nor "hold itself aloof or apart from the noble and valiant-attitude assumed by the United States." Cuba, he said, was bound to her North American neighbor by "an intelligence so intimate that it practically amounts to an alliance that shall at any time demand from Cuba decided aid, but which demands it with greater force on an occasion like the present, in which the United States is defending the principles of human liberty, of international justice and of honor, and the security of free and independent nations, which see their rights and most vital interests threatened." Cuba's assistance has been a factor of no small importance in our war preparations. She has turned over to the United States four German ships which had been in her ports since August, 1914, and the co-operation of her Government with our Food Administration has assured the most effective distribution of her immensely important sugar crop. Her navy has not only established a patrol of her own coast, but is also reported to be guarding other portions of the Caribbean Sea. Our Government has shown its appreciation of the value of her aid by subscribing for one-half of her $30,000,000 war loan. It is to be regretted that the Cuban flag is not more often displayed in the streets of our cities beside the flags of our other partners in the war, for we have no ally which has shown a more unselfish and whole-hearted determination to assist in the defeat of the common enemy.

Panama's decision was no less prompt and emphatic. On the day after the United States declared war, President Valdez informed the world by proclamation that "the Panamanian Nation will lend its decided aid to the United States of America against any enemies who execute or attempt to execute hostile acts against Panamanian territory or against the Panama Canal, or who in any way injure or attempt to injure the common interests of the two countries." A military force was at once organized to co-operate with the American garrison in the canal zone. In this way, the Republic's minister at Washington informed the American Government, Panama showed her gratitude to the United States and "the enthusiasm with which she proposes to share with them their good or evil fortune, placing at their disposal her modest, but undiminished portion of sacrifices in this hour of trial for the United States and for the liberty of the World."

The first South American country to enter the war was Brazil, the largest and the most populous of the A. B. C. Powers. This republic severed relations with Germany on April 11, 1917, because of the sinking of one of her merchant vessels. On May 29 of the same year she revoked her neutrality, in so far as the United States was concerned. In doing this, her ambassador declared to the State Department, she "recognized the fact that one of the belligerents is a constituent portion of the American continent, and that we are bound to that belligerent by traditional friendship and the same sentiment in the defense of the vital interests of America and the accepted principles of law." A month later, by revoking her neutrality between the Entente Allies as a whole and the Central Powers, the republic virtually became a participant in the war. Her navy joined the Allied patrol in the South Atlantic, assuming the task of guarding her long coast line, and measures were taken to protect her ships from attack in the war zone. The forty-six German ships lying in her harbors, aggregating 240,000 tons, were seized, and were chartered by the French Government, which placed them in service between America and Europe. The republic formally declared war upon Germany on October 26, 1917. Meanwhile her people had seized the first opportunity to show their approval of the Government's action by greeting with immense enthusiasm an American squadron under Admiral Caperton which visited Rio de Janeiro during the summer.

Brazil's immediate neighbor, Uruguay, has also emphatically expressed her conviction that the cause of the United States is the cause of the entire American continent. On June 18, 1917, the republic frankly offered the use of her ports to our navy, declaring that "no American country which in defense of its rights may find itself in a state of war with nations of another continent shall be treated as a belligerent." Admiral Caperton's squadron soon afterward visited Montevideo, where officers and men were feted as they had been at Rio. Despite the enthusiastic Pan-Americanism of the press and of the leaders of public opinion, a final rupture with Germany did not take place until autumn. The delay was due, apparently, to the hope that it might be possible to act in concert with Argentina. In October, 1917, when it became clear that the Government of that country was determined to remain neutral, President Viera informed the Uruguayan Congress that "it is now impossible to remain longer as simple, passive spectators in this world struggle, in which the supreme interests of democracy, which are also our interests, are in conflict with the autocracy of the German Empire—in which countries united to Uruguay by an identical community of ideals are participating, to whom it is impossible for us not to give our aid and moral support." The Congress at once voted to sever all diplomatic and commercial relations with the German Empire.

The same sentiment of Pan-American solidarity had meanwhile found expression in other parts of the continent. In Central America, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica had broken with Germany and had offered to the United States the use of their territorial waters for military purposes." "Guatemala," her minister in Washington declared, "from the first has adhered to and supported the attitude of the United States in the defense of the rights of nations, the liberty of the seas, and of international justice, and...has always considered itself in unity with your great nation in the lofty principles which it has so wisely proclaimed for the good of humanity." Honduras, "bound by common interests and by the sentiment of American solidarity," announced that she had "resolved to adhere to the cause which your Government maintains in this conflict," and proffered her "decided co-operation, all that may be possible." Costa Rica and Nicaragua expressed like sentiments. When the fifth Central American Republic, Salvador, was asked to define her position, she replied that, as an American nation, she "could not but recognize, in the conflict between the United States and Germany, the solidarity which unites her with the great Republic of the North, in view of the spirit of Pan-Americanism which must prevail between the countries of this continent; and for the same reason her state of neutrality could not lead her to consider the United States as a belligerent subject to the ordinary rules of international law." More recently, Guatemala and Honduras have formally declared war upon Germany.

On the west coast of South America, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador have severed relations with Germany. Bolivia, which had protested strongly against the submarine campaign as early as February, 1917, declaring that she stood with the United States in the defense of neutral rights, dismissed the German minister at La Paz on April 13 of the same year. Peru had not issued a proclamation of neutrality when the United States entered the war. On September 9, 1917, her Senate declared that "the international policy of Peru must be inspired in the principle of solidarity of the nations of the continent with the United States, in harmony with the ideals of international justice proclaimed by President Wilson." On September 26, the republic peremptorily demanded satisfaction within eight days for the destruction of a Peruvian sailing vessel by a German submarine. Failing to receive a favorable reply, she severed diplomatic relations with Germany on October 5. Ecuador took the same action two months later. She had already made clear her attitude when the former German minister at Lima, who was accredited to Ecuador also, expressed his intention of visiting her capital, for she had informed this diplomat that her Government felt that it could not receive him without doing violence to the principles of American solidarity which governed her foreign policy.

Besides these twelve countries, three of the smaller Latin American republics had also indicated their readiness to support the United States. In the Caribbean Sea, Haiti and Santo Domingo had broken with Germany soon after the United States had declared war. Paraguay, shut off from the world in the interior of South America, had expressed her regret "that military operations of the German Empire, opposed to the principles and conventions on which the rights of neutrals are founded and regulated in marine warfare, have forced the United States of America to appeal to arms in order to re-establish the rule of law by the recovery of those rights" and had declared that "Paraguay and its Government in these moments accompanies the United States of America and the American Government with the most lively sympathy."

At the present time, in fact, there are only five Latin American countries which have not made an emphatic official demonstration of their sympathy with the Allied cause since the United States entered the war, These are Colombia, where the bitter feeling caused by the secession of Panama is still so strong that we can hardly hope for any manifestation of friendship from her Government; Venezuela, whose military despotism has shown itself to be so strongly pro-German that the United States has forbidden the export of print paper to the government-controlled newspapers; and the three more important countries, Mexico, Chile and Argentina.

In the first weeks after the proclamation of unrestricted submarine warfare, it was feared that the rather strained relations which at that time existed between our Government and that of President Carranza might lead Mexico to assume an unfriendly attitude toward the United States, and this apprehension was increased by the publication of the Zimmerman note and by numerous incidents which appeared to indicate that there was strong pro-German and anti-American feeling both in government circles and among the people as a whole. A very unfavorable impression was created by President Carranza's suggestion, put forward when it was clear that the United States was about to enter the war, that the neutral Powers should unite in insisting that the conflict be brought to an end, and should place an embargo on all exports to the belligerents if peace did not result. Although diplomatic relations with Germany are still maintained, there have been many indications that the wave of Pan-Americanism which has swept through other parts of Latin America has not been without effect upon public sentiment in Mexico. The republic probably could not, and should not, take any part in the war in her present exhausted condition, but she might undoubtedly aid the United States very materially if she were to dismiss the German diplomatic representatives and to adopt more effective methods for checking the activities of German agents in her territory.

Chile has endeavored to maintain a scrupulous impartiality throughout the war. Her position is such that neutrality is perhaps her most logical policy. Her shipping is nearly all on the West Coast of the continent, where it has suffered no loss as the result of the submarine campaign, and her commercial and financial relations with both groups of belligerents have been of very great importance in her economic development. Her feeling towards the United States has, on the whole, been less friendly than that of the other West Coast Powers, and has not been improved by a few very disagreeable diplomatic incidents which have occurred during the last quarter century. While the majority of her people are probably pro-Ally, many of the officers of her German-trained army sympathize with the Central Powers, and one portion of her territory is inhabited mainly by persons of German descent. Furthermore, internal political dissensions, which have resulted in frequent changes of cabinets during the last twelve months, have prevented the formulation or consistent execution of any definite national policy. It seems unlikely, therefore, that she will modify her present attitude unless there is some unexpected development in her relations with one or the other of the two groups of belligerents.

Argentina, on the other hand, has on several occasions been on the verge of a rupture with the Central Powers. On April 11, upon receiving Secretary Lansing's note announcing the declaration of war by the United States, President Irigoyen himself wrote a reply stating that his government "recognizes the justice of that resolution, inasmuch as it was based upon the violation of the principles of neutrality made sacred by the rules of international law, which have ever been considered as the definitive conquests of civilization." Public opinion and the press have been strongly pro-Ally, and the visit of Admiral Caperton's squadron to Buenos Aires, at the invitation of the Government, was made the occasion for a great manifestation of Pan-American sentiment. Relations with Germany were strained almost to the breaking point during the summer of 1917 by the torpedoing of three small Argentine ships. After some weeks of tension, however, dining which Argentina sturdily refused to recede from her demand that her ships should not be attacked in the future under any circumstances, Germany reluctantly agreed to pay an indemnity and declared that she was confident that no further incidents of a similar nature would arise. This rather equivocal statement was accepted .as satisfactory in view of the assurance of the Argentine minister at Berlin that he considered it a promise not to attack Argentine ships in the future. After the revelation of the spurlos versenkt telegrams, popular feeling ran very high, and indignant mobs destroyed much of the property of the German colony in Buenos Aires. Both houses of Congress passed resolutions demanding that the dismissal of the German minister be followed by a complete rupture of diplomatic relations; but the president, who was not on the most friendly terms with the legislative body, disregarded this action and accepted the German Government's formal repudiation of von Luxburg's expressions. His attitude has caused intense dissatisfaction in Argentina, and has made him the target of severe criticism in foreign countries.

It is not fair to state, as the foreign press occasionally has stated, that the attitude of Argentina and Chile has been influenced by sympathy with Germany. The chief motive of their policy has been their desire to compel recognition of their own importance as world Powers. As the strongest non-European neutrals, they have hoped to obtain this recognition from both groups of belligerents; and they have therefore been loath to relinquish the advantages which their present situation confers upon them unless they could see a prospect of some material benefit to be gained thereby. Public opinion has been sharply divided in regard to the course which should be pursued. In each country the party which has favored neutrality has argued that the great South American republics could not with dignity sever relations with Germany unless they were prepared to make themselves real factors in the war, and that active belligerency would involve financial burdens and social and economic readjustments which they are not in a position to face. Their utmost sacrifices, it is asserted, would not enable them to assume a position of importance among the Allies, whereas the maintenance of a jealous neutrality has made it possible for Argentina, at least, to secure from Germany diplomatic concessions which, even the United States could not obtain. To these arguments the pro-Ally and pro-American party has replied that the hollowness of the Argentine diplomatic victories has been demonstrated by the Luxburg revelations, and that the only actual result of the policy of neutrality has been to diminish the national prestige both in America and in Europe. The fear is expressed that if the two republics continue neutral in a war which has now become a contest for the preservation of Western civilization, they will forfeit the right to count upon the friendship of the Allies after the return of peace, and will consequently encounter difficulties in rebuilding their commerce and in obtaining loans for the development of their natural resources. They will also sacrifice, as indeed they have already sacrificed, much of their influence with their own neighbors, nearly all of whom have now definitely thrown in their lot with the United States.

Chile and Argentina have been made especially reluctant to abandon their neutrality because of their dislike of being, or appearing to be, drawn into the war in the wake of the United States. Arrogant assertions by North American publicists and newspaper writers of the supremacy of the United States in the Western Hemisphere have made the great Powers of the southern continent very sensitive about following our leadership and very jealous of their right of independent action. They resent the assumption that the declaration of war by their great Anglo-Saxon neighbor can impose any obligation on them to modify their attitude toward either group of belligerents. This feeling is stronger to-day than it might otherwise have been because of their disappointment at the attitude of the United States in the first months after the war broke out in Europe. At that time the South American representatives at Washington had endeavored to form a Pan-American concert for the assertion and maintenance of neutral rights, but their project had failed because our State Department had refused, to join them in any really effective common action. This episode created an unpleasant impression which did much to discourage a united Latin American support of our war policy.

Since our rupture with Germany, the Argentine Government has made several attempts to form a Latin American concert independent of the United States, with the dual object of safeguarding neutral rights in the increasingly difficult situation created by our entry into the war and of counteracting the growth of friendly feeling towards our cause among the other republics of the continent. In February, 1917, President Irigoyen had proposed that a Congress should be held at Buenos Aires for the discussion of the problems confronting the American neutral Powers. His suggestion gave rise to prolonged negotiations, which were carried on with the utmost secrecy. Before the plans for the meeting had taken definite shape, opposition had developed in several quarters, for there were serious differences of opinion as to how far the congress should go in committing the nations which participated in it to a definite policy of joint action. Some of the Powers interested wished that the United States should also he invited to send delegates. The authorities at Washington were known to disapprove of the whole project, on the ground that the congress could hardly have any useful result, and their attitude was shared by Cuba, Brazil, and Panama. After these countries had become belligerents, it was impossible for them to take part in a congress of neutrals, and a meeting held without them would have lacked the Pan-American character which was to have been its chief feature. There was little surprise, therefore, when the Argentine Government announced in July, 1917, that the congress had been indefinitely postponed because of differences of opinion between the Powers invited to attend and because of the fear that its purpose might be misinterpreted.

President Irigoyen later revived his project when the popular indignation aroused by the Luxburg disclosures forced him to take action of some kind looking to a modification of his Government's policy towards Germany; but his efforts met with even less success than during the previous spring. Most of the republics which had accepted his proposal at that time had since then despaired of realizing their aspirations for an energetic Pan-American policy under Argentine leadership, and had on their own account broken with Germany or revoked their neutrality in order that they might render active or passive assistance to the United States. It is now no longer possible to convene a Pan-American conference for the maintenance of neutral rights, for the meeting must either include many republics which have already taken sides in the war, or else be limited to a pitiful minority of the nations of the continent. In either case, it seems unlikely that it could accomplish anything of importance.

The attempt to create a Latin American concert independent of, if not hostile to, the United States has broken down completely before the conviction, which has grown stronger and stronger, that the interests and ideals for which the United States is fighting are the interests and ideals of all America. The events of the war have brought to all of the republics of the Western hemisphere a realization that their free development depends upon the triumph of the principles of national independence and international fair-play over the ambitions of militaristic imperialism—a realization which has found vigorous expression not only in the press of the Latin American countries but also in the official declarations of their governments. Although individual grievances and a traditional jealousy which is in large part a legacy of tactless North American statesmen of past generations have led a few Powers to hold aloof, the majority of our neighbors have supported us with a warmth of sentiment which has been a revelation even to ardent advocates of Pan-Americanism. The action of Cuba, Panama, and Brazil, of the five Central American Republics, Santo Domingo and Haiti, and of Uruguay, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, has revealed a spirit of continental solidarity and a determination to support the United States in maintaining the integrity of American rights against aggression from Europe which have completely refuted the assertions of the writers who not long ago had been informing us that the Monroe Doctrine was outworn and that Pan-Americanism was an idle dream. The American continent is nearer to-day than ever before to a practical union for the realization of the principles enunciated by President Monroe in 1823, and Pan-Americanism has become a powerful international force, which must have far-reaching significance after the present conflict.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



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