National Geographic : 1917 Apr
A TRIBUTE TO AMERICA* BY HERBERT HENRY ASQUITH FORMERLY PRIME MINISTER OF GREAT BRITAIN IT IS only right and fitting that this House, the chief representative body of the British Empire, should at the earliest possible opportunity give definite and emphatic expression to the feelings which throughout the length and breadth of the Empire have grown day by day in volume and fervor since the memorable decision of the President and Congress of the United States. I doubt whether, even now, the world realizes the full significance of the step America has taken. I do not use lan guage of flattery or exaggeration when I say it is one of the most disinterested acts in history. For more than 100 years it has been the cardinal principle of Ameri can policy to keep clear of foreign en tanglements. A war such as this must necessarily dislocate international com merce and finance, but on the balance it was doing little appreciable harm to the material fortunes and prosperity of the American people. What, then, has enabled the Presi dent-after waiting with the patience which Pitt described as the first virtue of statesmanship - to carry with him a united nation into the hazards and hor rors of the greatest war in history? Not calculation of material gain, not hope of territorial aggrandizement, not even the pricking of one of those so called points of honor which in days gone by have driven nations, as they used to drive individuals, to the duelling ground. It was the constraining force of con science and humanity, growing in strength and compulsive authority month by month, with the gradual unfolding of the real character of German aims and meth ods. It was that force alone which brought home to the great democracy overseas the momentous truth that they *An address in the House of Parliament April 17, 1917. were standing at the parting of the ways. The American nation had to make one of those great decisions which in the lives of men and nations determine for good or ill their whole future. What was it that our kinsmen in Amer ica realized as the issue in this unexam pled conflict? The very things which, if we are worthy of our best traditions, we are bound to vindicate-essential condi tions of free and honorable development of the nations of the world, humanity, respect for law, consideration for the weak and unprotected, chivalry toward mankind, observance of good faith these things, which we used to regard as commonplaces of international decency, one after another have been flouted, men aced, trodden under foot, as though they were effete superstitions of a bygone creed. America sees in this clear issue some thing of wider import than the vicissi tudes of the battlefields, or even of a re arrangement of the map of Europe on the basis of nationality. The whole future of civilized govern ment and intercourse, in particular the fortunes and faith of democracy, has been brought into peril. In such a situ ation aloofness is seen to be not only a blunder, but a crime. To stand aside with stopped ears, with folded arms, with averted gaze, when you have the power to intervene, is to become not a mere spectator, but an accomplice. There was never in the minds of any of us a fear that the moment the issue became apparent and unmistakable the voice of America would not be heard. She has now dedicated herself without hesitation or reserve, heart and soul and strength, to the greatest of causes, to which, stimulated and fortified by her comradeship, we here renew our fealty and devotion.