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12: Pan-Americanism and the Great War

<< 11: The Republics of the Caribbean || Bibliographical Note

While the Hispanic republics were entering upon the second century of their independent life, the idea of a certain community of interests between themselves and the United States began to assume a fairly definite form. Though emphasized by American statesmen and publicists in particular, the new point of view was not generally understood or appreciated by the people of either this country or its fellow nations to the southward. It seemed, nevertheless, to promise an effective cooperation in spirit and action between them and came therefore to be called "Pan-Americanism."

This sentiment of inter-American solidarity sprang from several sources. The periodical conferences of the United States and its sister republics gave occasion for an interchange of official courtesies and expressions of good feeling. Doubtless, also, the presence of delegates from the Hispanic countries at the international gatherings at The Hague served to acquaint the world at large with the stability, strength, wealth, and culture of their respective lands. Individual Americans took an active interest in their fellows of Hispanic stock and found their interest reciprocated. Motives of business or pleasure and a desire to obtain personal knowledge about one another led to visits and countervisits that became steadily more frequent. Societies were created to encourage the friendship and acquaintance thus formed. Scientific congresses were held and institutes were founded in which both the United States and Hispanic America were represented. Books, articles, and newspaper accounts about one another's countries were published in increasing volume. Educational institutions devoted a constantly growing attention to inter-American affairs. Individuals and commissions were dispatched by the Hispanic nations and the United States to study one another's conditions and to confer about matters of mutual concern. Secretaries of State, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and other distinguished personages interchanged visits. Above all, the common dangers and responsibilities falling upon the Americas at large as a consequence of the European war seemed likely to bring the several nations into a harmony of feeling and relationship to which they had never before attained.

Pan-Americanism, however, was destined to remain largely a generous ideal. The action of the United States in extending its direct influence over the small republics in and around the Caribbean aroused the suspicion and alarm of Hispanic Americans, who still feared imperialistic designs on the part of that country now more than ever the Colossus of the North. "The art of oratory among the Yankees," declared a South American critic, "is lavish with a fraternal idealism; but strong wills enforce their imperialistic ambitions." Impassioned speakers and writers adjured the ghost of Hispanic confederation to rise and confront the new northern peril. They even advocated an appeal to Great Britain, Germany, or Japan, and they urged closer economic, social, and intellectual relations with the countries of Europe.

It was while the United States was thus widening the sphere of its influence in the Caribbean that the "A B C" powers—Argentina, Brazil, and Chile—reached an understanding which was in a sense a measure of self-defense. For some years cordial relations had existed among these three nations which had grown so remarkably in strength and prestige. It was felt that by united action they might set up in the New World the European principle of a balance of power, assume the leadership in Hispanic America, and serve in some degree as a counterpoise to the United States. Nevertheless they were disposed to cooperate with their northern neighbor in the peaceable adjustment of conflicts in which other Hispanic countries were concerned, provided that the mediation carried on by such a "concert of the western world" did not include actual intervention in the internal affairs of the countries involved.

With this attitude of the public mind, it is not strange that the Hispanic republics at large should have been inclined to look with scant favor upon proposals made by the United States, in 1916, to render the spirit of Pan-Americanism more precise in its operation. The proposals in substance were these: that all the nations of America "mutually agree to guarantee the territorial integrity" of one another; to "maintain a republican form of government"; to prohibit the "exportation of arms to any but the legally constituted governments"; and to adopt laws of neutrality which would make it "impossible to filibustering expeditions to threaten or carry on revolutions in neighboring republics." These proposals appear to have received no formal approval beyond what is signified by the diplomatic expression "in principle." Considering the disparity in strength, wealth, and prestige between the northern country and its southern fellows, suggestions of the sort could be made practicable only by letting the United States do whatever it might think needful to accomplish the objects which it sought. Obviously the Hispanic nations, singly or collectively, would hardly venture to take any such action within the borders of the United States itself, if, for example, it failed to maintain what, in their opinion, was "a republican form of government." A full acceptance of the plan accordingly would have amounted to a recognition of American overlordship, and this they were naturally not disposed to admit.

The common perils and duties confronting the Americas as a result of the Great War, however, made close cooperation between the Hispanic republics and the United States up to a certain point indispensable. Toward that transatlantic struggle the attitude of all the nations of the New World at the outset was substantially the same. Though strongly sympathetic on the whole with the "Allies" and notably with France, the southern countries nevertheless declared their neutrality. More than that, they tried to convert neutrality into a Pan-American policy, instead of regarding it as an official attitude to be adopted by the republics separately. Thus when the conflict overseas began to injure the rights of neutrals, Argentina and other nations urged that the countries of the New World jointly agree to declare that direct maritime commerce between American lands should be considered as "inter-American coastwise trade," and that the merchant ships engaged in it, whatever the flag under which they sailed, should be looked upon as neutral. Though the South American countries failed to enlist the support of their northern neighbor in this bold departure from international precedent, they found some compensation for their disappointment in the closer commercial and financial relations which they established with the United States.

Because of the dependence of the Hispanic nations, and especially those of the southern group, on the intimacy of their economic ties with the belligerents overseas, they suffered from the ravages of the struggle more perhaps than other lands outside of Europe. Negotiations for prospective loans were dropped. Industries were suspended, work on public improvements was checked, and commerce brought almost to a standstill. As the revenues fell off and ready money became scarce, drastic measures had to be devised to meet the financial strain. For the protection of credit, bank holidays were declared, stock exchanges were closed, moratoria were set up in nearly all the countries, taxes and duties were increased, radical reductions in expenditure were undertaken, and in a few cases large quantities of paper money were issued.

With the European market thus wholly or partially cut off, the Hispanic republics were forced to supply the consequent shortage with manufactured articles and other goods from the United States and to send thither their raw materials in exchange. To their northern neighbor they had to turn also for pecuniary aid. A Pan-American financial conference was held at Washington in 1915, and an international high commission was appointed to carry its recommendations into effect. Gradually most of the Hispanic countries came to show a favorable trade balance. Then, as the war drew into its fourth year, several of them even began to enjoy great prosperity. That Pan-Americanism had not meant much more than cooperation for economic ends seemed evident when, on April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. Instead of following spontaneously in the wake of their great northern neighbor, the Hispanic republics were divided by conflicting currents of opinion and hesitated as to their proper course of procedure. While a majority of them expressed approval of what the United States had done, and while Uruguay for its part asserted that "no American country, which in defense of its own rights should find itself in a state of war with nations of other continents, would be treated as a belligerent," Mexico veered almost to the other extreme by proposing that the republics of America agree to lay an embargo on the shipment of munitions to the warring powers.

As a matter of fact, only seven out of the nineteen Hispanic nations saw fit to imitate the example set by their northern neighbor and to declare war on Germany. These were Cuba—in view of its "duty toward the United States," Panama, Guatemala, Brazil, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Since the Dominican Republic at the time was under American military control, it was not in a position to choose its course. Four countries Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Uruguay—broke off diplomatic relations with Germany. The other seven republics—Mexico, Salvador, Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, and Paraguay—continued their formal neutrality. In spite of a disclosure made by the United States of insulting and threatening utterances on the part of the German charge d'affaires in Argentina, which led to popular outbreaks at the capital and induced the national Congress to declare in favor of a severance of diplomatic relations with that functionary's Government, the President of the republic stood firm in his resolution to maintain neutrality. If Pan-Americanism had ever involved the idea of political cooperation among the nations of the New World, it broke down just when it might have served the greatest of purposes. Even the "A B C" combination itself had apparently been shattered.

A century and more had now passed since the Spanish and Portuguese peoples of the New World had achieved their independence. Eighteen political children of various sizes and stages of advancement, or backwardness, were born of Spain in America, and one acknowledged the maternity of Portugal. Big Brazil has always maintained the happiest relations with the little mother in Europe, who still watches with pride the growth of her strapping youngster. Between Spain and her descendants, however, animosity endured for many years after they had thrown off the parental yoke. Yet of late, much has been done on both sides to render the relationship cordial. The graceful act of Spain in sending the much-beloved Infanta Isabel to represent her in Argentina and Chile at the celebration of the centennial anniversary of their cry for independence, and to wish them Godspeed on their onward journey, was typical of the yearning of the mother country for her children overseas, despite the lapse of years and political ties. So, too, her ablest men of intellect have striven nobly and with marked success to revive among them a sense of filial affection and gratitude for all that Spain contributed to mold the mind and heart of her kindred in distant lands. On their part, the Hispanic Americans have come to a clearer consciousness of the fact that on the continents of the New World there are two distinct types of civilization, with all that each connotes of differences in race, psychology, tradition, language, and custom—their own, and that represented by the United States. Appreciative though the southern countries are of their northern neighbor, they cling nevertheless to their heritage from Spain and Portugal in whatever seems conducive to the maintenance of their own ideals of life and thought.

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