The Problems of a Just Peace

The formulation of this subject suggests a book which has recently appeared, written by ex-President Hoover and the diplomat, Hugh Gibson, entitled The Problems of Lasting Peace. However, it will be at once noticed that the present formulation points more to the underlying question with which we must be concerned; it begins at the beginning and it rightly suggests that the difficulty lies not in keeping a peace once attained, but in ever getting a peace that is true to the name.

Now in discussing this problem we must avoid two extremes.

On the one hand is the danger of a simplistic answer of saying, “Why, sin, that’s the only problem—sin.” For if we give this answer we are forgetting a principle similar to the one we express when we condemn “a gospel on a thumb-nail”. Then we are forgetting that just as the grace and wisdom of God is manifold, so also sin is manifold and complicated, and that the corruption of the best is the worst. Then we fail to see how sin has corrupted the entire organism of which we are members, and in which our whole life must be redeemed by grace.

On the other hand is the danger of making it a purely intellectual problem of economic and political science. For then we forget the principle that is so finely expressed and often quoted: Op den bodem aller vragen ligt der wereld zondeschuld.

To the task of this discussion I set myself with a mingled feeling. For firstly there is the consciousness that in God’s Word we have the revelation and the wisdom to understand these problems. Especially the Calvinists of the Netherlands have emphasized that all these spheres have their God-ordained laws. Thus we may speak in a sense with confidence.

On the other hand is the immense task of formulating these laws, of applying them to a chaotic world, and then of submitting to them as to an easy yoke. How, in a world of relations and inter-relations that must stagger the intellect of the greatest statesmen and economists, can we hope to restore those relations after sin has reigned there for six-thousand years!

Hence there is every reason for humility and I will only hope that the general thrust of my thesis will be in the right direction.

A Severe Criterion

In speaking of a just peace we must remember that we have to do with a very severe criterion, which is none other than the holy law of God. And although it is true that it is God’s law for certain specific relations and spheres, it is nevertheless the justice of God’s ordinances which no convention or international law or temporary measures of expediency or utility can evade. God applies His law and judges today as really as He shall in the day when He brings to revelation what has always been His evaluation.

We may here apply the challenge which God casts down to the people of Israel: Wash you, . . . cease to do evil, learn to do well, and your sins shall be as white as snow . . . and ye shall eat the good of the land. Isaiah 1.

But who is able to respond to that ultimatum? There is only one answer: Zion shall be redeemed in judgment. Isaiah 1:24-28. And thus not this world but a new world shall arise in righteousness and peace.

Some Problems of a Material Nature

I believe that when we try to think into these problems, one that especially strikes us is that between group solidarity and personal, individual rights in the many forms in which these can stand toward each other.

Concretely, this will first appear in the constitution of the body which formulates the terms of peace. There those having the right to a seat will be those considered free from war guilt. Yet how difficult it will be to get a representation that is really representative in that way will appear when we consider that in some instances leaders pushed their people, in other instances the people pushed their leaders. Have we of the Allied powers not talked of aggressing on Sweden to help little Finland, and of aggressing through neutral Russia, (before we knew her strength) to strike Germany from the Near East? Yet our leaders have refrained from such acts and through them we will be represented as innocent. In that final settlement some of the victors who dictate the terms will have become guilty of aggression in fact or in spirit, whereas among the vanquished will be such as Finland and Rumania who are the victims of force and brutality. And then in connection with this we have the rights of neutrals, which through history is a very fluctuating conception. In how far must a nation fighting for its life, respect the neutrality of a nation that is designedly or undesignedly aiding an aggressor? We may think in this connection of the Food Blockade and of Madagascar.

Another problem at the peace conference will be that of Indemnities. Justice we know requires full measure. This is not at all in conflict with the law of forgiveness of the kingdom of heaven. I may, of course forgive my neighbor if he steals or wrongs me, but the judge who in this case would simply absolve him, or compromise the case would be grossly violating justice.

The question before the member of the conference will be that of equity and remuneration to those for whom he as plenipotentiary is called to arbitrate. The quantities there involved are immeasurable, such as national honor violated, suffering incurred, property destroyed, lives taken, health of the populace permanently affected. And this multiplied by the factor of relative innocence or guilt.

Closely connected with this is the question of new boundaries, which must consider such things as racial background, natural geographic boundaries, majorities and minorities, minorities who were voluntarily integrate or forcefully annexed or even group exiles.

Of confused racial backgrounds we have instances in the Balkans. Who belongs where, according to justice?

Of geographic boundaries we have the Polish Corridor, Ice-free ports for a great nation like Russia in the Gulf of Finland; the right of Italy to have one good harbor on her east coast, i.e., Fiume; the right of Japan to find elbow room for excessive millions.

What in all these cases is the will of the all-sovereign, who created man to multiply and develop the earth, having determined the bounds of their habitation?

Of the rights of minorities, annexed and exiled groups, we have all the glaring cases of Poland and the Balkan states and peoples.

Lastly a just peace involves, of course, the question of war debts. Both as to the powers adjudged as guilty, and also to the relative burden the victorious powers will have to bear. In this computation, will it be fair, the following will have to be considered:

The advantage accorded to and gained by each power.

The ability to bear.

The comparison of the investments of each.

The comparison of value as between men and material.

That these must all be considered appears from the history of war debts since 1919. We recall the several attempts to help Germany pay her indemnities, then to help the other nations to pay and, finally, the moratorium and standstill agreement after the crash.

We recall how recently, even, moulders of public opinion, in seeking an added reason for good measure, why Britain should fight her own war, suggested she had first let us arm her for the previous war, then induced us to fight her war, and then to climax her perfidy, repudiated her debts and called U. S. Uncle Shylock for still mentioning them. One must not try to analyze such oratory of course. It is not meant for that.

What, e.g., may Russia rightly expect, having borne the brunt in men material and territory destroyed, as compared with U.S. and Brazil who profess to have entered for the same reason as Russia, namely; the defense of hearth and home?

We could continue, citing France, China, The Netherlands, whose sacrifice in men and material whose advantage gained and whose ability to bear all differ.

The Spiritual Problem

But now we come to another dimension in the problem. It is almost like going from the geometry problems of a plane surface to those of a solid.

In the above I have left out of consideration as much as possible the factor of sin. Not that I imagine that even the more material part can be reviewed apart from sin. We know these problems are not as complicated as seen above because they are given with the constitution and development of created things. Not at all! These problems have developed among the nations, under the dominion of sin, and they have developed until they are beyond solution even for the best of intentions.

But now that the factor of sin is introduced by name we may in general have our verdict ready. Politics, so we say, is corrupt and international politics is doubly corrupt and therefore hopeless. And yet such a verdict is too hasty and too one-sided. Not politics is corrupt but man and humanity is corrupt and wholly corrupt. That is the seal of the hopelessness. And I believe it is the failure to see the depth and meaning of this that mars the recent book of Hoover and Gibson. However presumptuous it may seem for a mere layman to criticize such a great authority and charge it with overlooking the main point, yet I am sure that here the Christian may say “I have more wisdom than all my teachers because I observe Thy testimonies”. And I believe that statesman and historians of the future will read this book with the same amused smile with which these men review the list of books which attempted to point the way in the past.

Against the six forces which these men see working for war they place one by which they hope to counteract them all. That is “the will to peace”. However this will to peace is a false assumption. A careful analysis will reveal that this will to peace is also another side of the destructive forces. It is peace for the sake of gain, of power, of advantage, of security and that is why it has no remedial power.

Thus we have all the inherent problems multiplied by the dimension of willful deliberate greed, hatred, vengeance. Of this we could give as illustration all the diplomatic scheming and bartering that filled the five months required to draft the terms of peace. The history of the past peace conference tells us of a Lloyd George who was retained as minister by his people upon the understanding that he would “Hang the Kaiser” at the peace conference. Clemenceau; ditto and worse. The Italian delegates had inflamed their people to demand Trieste and Fiume so that they might show the people how their party got things done at Paris. And it is shown that Wilson bartered the rights of small nations to buy support for his League of Nations Plan. Competent observers saw a wind being sown and predicted a whirlwind harvest. Since mankind has not improved it is vain to expect these conditions to improve.

The Christians Conclusion

In such a world the Christian has a peculiar calling. Firstly he has no illusion that a just or lasting peace is possible. He bases this sober view on the plain prediction of Scripture concerning wars and rumors of war and on Scripture’s constant characterization of the inherent direction of man and mankind. In the second place he will work with all his might for peace. He does so by a necessary urge of an inherent power. Picture an A. Kuyper or an H. Colyn at such a peace conference. Can you imagine anyone working harder for a just peace? And by the same principle that this is true of such men it is true of every Christian. He talks peace, he seeks peace, he advocates peace. He teaches his children peace and he lives in the way of peace out of the power of the peace of God which fills his heart and mind through Christ.