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In The Fourth Year


Anticipations of a World Peace


"The preservation of the world-peace rests with the great powers and with the great powers alone."

This is a collection of essays by H. G. Wells discussing the issues of post-World War I politics and establishing lasting peace in regard to the League of Nations.


In the latter half of 1914 a few of us were writing that this war was a
"War of Ideas." A phrase, "The War to end War," got into circulation,
amidst much sceptical comment. It was a phrase powerful enough to sway
many men, essentially pacifists, towards taking an active part in the
war against German imperialism, but it was a phrase whose chief content
was its aspiration. People were already writing in those early days of
disarmament and of the abolition of the armament industry throughout the
world; they realized fully the element of industrial belligerency behind
the shining armour of imperialism, and they denounced the "Krupp-Kaiser"
alliance. But against such writing and such thought we had to count, in
those days, great and powerful realities. Even to those who expressed
these ideas there lay visibly upon them the shadow of impracticability;
they were very "advanced" ideas in 1914, very Utopian. Against them was
an unbroken mass of mental habit and public tradition. While we talked
of this "war to end war," the diplomatists of the Powers allied against
Germany were busily spinning a disastrous web of greedy secret treaties,
were answering aggression by schemes of aggression, were seeing in the
treacherous violence of Germany only the justification for
countervailing evil acts. To them it was only another war for
"ascendancy." That was three years and a half ago, and since then this
"war of ideas" has gone on to a phase few of us had dared hope for in
those opening days. The Russian revolution put a match to that pile of
secret treaties and indeed to all the imperialist plans of the Allies;
in the end it will burn them all. The greatest of the Western Allies is
now the United States of America, and the Americans have come into this
war simply for an idea. Three years and a half ago a few of us were
saying this was a war against the idea of imperialism, not German
imperialism merely, but British and French and Russian imperialism, and
we were saying this not because it was so, but because we hoped to see
it become so. To-day we can say so, because now it is so.

In those days, moreover, we said this is the "war to end war," and we
still did not know clearly how. We thought in terms of treaties and
alliances. It is largely the detachment and practical genius of the
great English-speaking nation across the Atlantic that has carried the
world on beyond and replaced that phrase by the phrase, "The League of
Nations," a phrase suggesting plainly the organization of a sufficient
instrument by which war may be ended for ever. In 1913 talk of a World
League of Nations would have seemed, to the extremest pitch, "Utopian."
To-day the project has an air not only of being so practicable, but of
being so urgent and necessary and so manifestly the sane thing before
mankind that not to be busied upon it, not to be making it more widely
known and better understood, not to be working out its problems and
bringing it about, is to be living outside of the contemporary life of
the world. For a book upon any other subject at the present time some
apology may be necessary, but a book upon this subject is as natural a
thing to produce now as a pair of skates in winter when the ice begins
to bear.

All we writers find ourselves engaged perforce in some part or other of
a world-wide propaganda of this the most creative and hopeful of
political ideas that has ever dawned upon the consciousness of mankind.
With no concerted plan we feel called upon to serve it. And in no
connection would one so like to think oneself un-original as in this
connection. It would be a dismaying thing to realize that one were
writing anything here which was not the possible thought of great
multitudes of other people, and capable of becoming the common thought
of mankind. One writes in such a book as this not to express oneself but
to swell a chorus. The idea of the League of Nations is so great a one
that it may well override the pretensions and command the allegiance of
kings; much more does it claim the self-subjugation of the journalistic
writer. Our innumerable books upon this great edifice of a World Peace
do not constitute a scramble for attention, but an attempt to express in
every variety of phrase and aspect this one system of ideas which now
possesses us all. In the same way the elementary facts and ideas of the
science of chemistry might conceivably be put completely and fully into
one text-book, but, as a matter of fact, it is far more convenient to
tell that same story over in a thousand different forms, in a text-book
for boys here, for a different sort or class of boy there, for adult
students, for reference, for people expert in mathematics, for people
unused to the scientific method, and so on. For the last year the writer
has been doing what he can—and a number of other writers have been
doing what they can—to bring about a united declaration of all the
Atlantic Allies in favour of a League of Nations, and to define the
necessary nature of that League. He has, in the course of this work,
written a series of articles upon the League and upon the necessary
sacrifices of preconceptions
that the idea involves in the London
press. He has also been trying to clear his own mind upon the real
meaning of that ambiguous word "democracy," for which the League is to
make the world "safe." The bulk of this book is made up of these
discussions. For a very considerable number of readers, it may be well
to admit here, it can have no possible interest; they will have come at
these questions themselves from different angles and they will have long
since got to their own conclusions. But there may be others whose angle
of approach may be similar to the writer's, who may have asked some or
most of the questions he has had to ask, and who may be actively
interested in the answers and the working out of the answers he has made
to these questions. For them this book is printed.


May, 1918.

It is a dangerous thing to recommend specific books out of so large and
various a literature as the "League of Nations" idea has already
produced, but the reader who wishes to reach beyond the range of this
book, or who does not like its tone and method, will probably find
something to meet his needs and tastes better in Marburg's "League of
Nations," a straightforward account of the American side of the movement
by the former United States Minister in Belgium, on the one hand, or in
the concluding parts of Mr. Fayle's "Great Settlement" (1915), a frankly
sceptical treatment from the British Imperialist point of view, on the
other. An illuminating discussion, advocating peace treaties rather than
a league, is Sir Walter Phillimore's "Three Centuries of Treaties." Two
excellent books from America, that chance to be on my table, are Mr.
Goldsmith's "League to Enforce Peace" and "A World in Ferment" by
President Nicholas Murray Butler. Mater's "Société des Nations" (Didier)
is an able presentation of a French point of view. Brailsford's "A
League of Nations" is already a classic of the movement in England, and
a very full and thorough book; and Hobson's "Towards International
Government" is a very sympathetic contribution from the English liberal
left; but the reader must understand that these two writers seem
disposed to welcome a peace with an unrevolutionized Germany, an idea to
which, in common with most British people, I am bitterly opposed.
Walsh's "World Rebuilt" is a good exhortation, and Mugge's "Parliament
of Man" is fresh and sane and able. The omnivorous reader will find good
sense and quaint English in Judge Mejdell's "Jus Gentium," published
in English by Olsen's of Christiania. There is an active League of
Nations Society in Dublin, as well as the London and Washington ones,
publishing pamphlets and conducting propaganda. All these books and
pamphlets I have named happen to lie upon my study table as I write, but
I have made no systematic effort to get together literature upon the
subject, and probably there are just as many books as good of which I
have never even heard. There must, I am sure, be statements of the
League of Nations idea forthcoming from various religious standpoints,
but I do not know any sufficiently well to recommend them. It is
incredible that neither the Roman Catholic Church, the English Episcopal
Church, nor any Nonconformist body has made any effort as an
organization to forward this essentially religious end of peace on
earth. And also there must be German writings upon this same topic. I
mention these diverse sources not in order to present a bibliography,
but because I should be sorry to have the reader think that this little
book pretends to state the case rather than a case for the League of

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