|While I am most emphatically and sincerely opposed to taking any step that will force our
country into the useless and senseless war now being waged in Europe, yet, if this resolution
passes, I shall not permit my feeling of opposition to its passage to interfere in any way with
my duty either as a senator or as a citizen in bringing success and victory to American arms. I
am bitterly opposed to my country entering the war, but if, notwithstanding my opposition, we
do enter it, all of my energy and all of my power will be behind our flag in carrying it on to
The resolution now before the Senate is a declaration of war. Before taking this momentous
step, and while standing on the brink of this terrible vortex, we ought to pause and calmly and
judiciously consider the terrible consequences of the step we are about to take. We ought to
consider likewise the route we have recently traveled and ascertain whether we have reached
our present position in a way that is compatible with the neutral position which we claimed to
occupy at the beginning and through the various stages of this unholy and unrighteous war.
No close student of recent history will deny that both Great Britain and Germany have, on
numerous occasions since the beginning of the war, flagrantly violated in the most serious
manner the rights of neutral vessels and neutral nations under existing international law, as
recognized up to the beginning of this war by the civilized world.
The reason given by the President in asking Congress to declare war against Germany is that
the German government has declared certain war zones, within which, by the use of
submarines, she sinks, without notice, American ships and destroys American lives. . . . The
first war zone was declared by Great Britain. She gave us and the world notice of it on, the
4th day of November, 1914. The zone became effective Nov. 5, 1914. . . . This zone so
declared by Great Britain covered the whole of the North Sea. . . . The first German war zone
was declared on the 4th day of February, 1915, just three months after the British war zone
was declared. Germany gave fifteen days' notice of the establishment of her zone, which
became effective on the 18th day of February, 1915. The German war zone covered the
English Channel and the high seawaters around the British Isles. . . .
It is unnecessary to cite authority to show that both of these orders declaring military zones
were illegal and contrary to international law. It is sufficient to say that our government has
officially declared both of them to be illegal and has officially protested against both of them.
The only difference is that in the case of Germany we have persisted in our protest, while in
the case of England we have submitted.
What was our duty as a government and what were our rights when we were confronted with
these extraordinary orders declaring these military zones? First, we could have defied both of
them and could have gone to war against both of these nations for this violation of international
law and interference with our neutral rights. Second, we had the technical right to defy one
and to acquiesce in the other. Third, we could, while denouncing them both as illegal, have
acquiesced in them both and thus remained neutral with both sides, although not agreeing with
either as to the righteousness of their respective orders. We could have said to American
shipowners that, while these orders are both contrary to international law and are both unjust,
we do not believe that the provocation is sufficient to cause us to go to war for the defense of
our rights as a neutral nation, and, therefore, American ships and American citizens will go into
these zones at their own peril and risk.
Fourth, we might have declared an embargo against the shipping from American ports of any
merchandise to either one of these governments that persisted in maintaining its military zone.
We might have refused to permit the sailing of any ship from any American port to either of
these military zones. In my judgment, if we had pursued this course, the zones would have
been of short duration. England would have been compelled to take her mines out of the
North Sea in order to get any supplies from our country. When her mines were taken out of
the North Sea then the German ports upon the North Sea would have been accessible to
American shipping and Germany would have been compelled to cease her submarine warfare
in order to get any supplies from our nation into German North Sea ports.
There are a great many American citizens who feel that we owe it as a duty to humanity to
take part in this war. Many instances of cruelty and inhumanity can be found on both sides.
Men are often biased in their judgment on account of their sympathy and their interests. To my
mind, what we ought to have maintained from the beginning was the strictest neutrality. If we
had done this, I do not believe we would have been on the verge of war at the present time.
We had a right as a nation, if we desired, to cease at any time to be neutral. We had a
technical right to respect the English war zone and to disregard the German war zone, but we
could not do that and be neutral.
I have no quarrel to find with the man who does not desire our country to remain neutral.
While many such people are moved by selfish motives and hopes of gain, I have no doubt but
that in a great many instances, through what I believe to be a misunderstanding of the real
condition, there are many honest, patriotic citizens who think we ought to engage in this war
and who are behind the President in his demand that we should declare war against Germany.
I think such people err in judgment and to a great extent have been misled as to the real
history and the true facts by the almost unanimous demand of the great combination of wealth
that has a direct financial interest in our participation in the war.
We have loaned many hundreds of millions of dollars to the Allies in this controversy. While
such action was legal and countenanced by international law, there is no doubt in my mind but
the enormous amount of money loaned to the Allies in this country has been instrumental in
bringing about a public sentiment in favor of our country taking a course that would make
every bond worth a hundred cents on the dollar and making the payment of every debt certain
and sure. Through this instrumentality and also through the instrumentality of others who have
not only made millions out of the war in the manufacture of munitions, etc., and who would
expect to make millions more if our country can be drawn into the catastrophe, a large number
of the great newspapers and news agencies of the country have been controlled and enlisted in
the greatest propaganda that the world has ever known to manufacture sentiment in favor of
It is now demanded that the American citizens shall be used as insurance policies to guarantee
the safe delivery of munitions of war to belligerent nations. The enormous profits of munition
manufacturers, stockbrokers, and bond dealers must be still further increased by our entrance
into the war. This has brought us to the present moment, when Congress, urged by the
President and backed by the artificial sentiment, is about to declare war and engulf our
country in the greatest holocaust that the world has ever known.
In showing the position of the bondholder and the stockbroker, I desire to read an extract
from a letter written by a member of the New York Stock Exchange to his customers. This
Regarding the war as inevitable, Wall Street believes that it would be preferable to this
uncertainty about the actual date of its commencement. Canada and Japan are at war
and are more prosperous than ever before. The popular view is that stocks would have
a quick, clear, sharp reaction immediately upon outbreak of hostilities, and that then
they would enjoy an old-fashioned bull market such as followed the outbreak of war
with Spain in 1898. The advent of peace would force a readjustment of commodity
prices and would probably mean a postponement of new enterprises. As peace
negotiations would be long drawn out, the period of waiting and uncertainty for
business would be long. If the United States does not go to war, it is nevertheless good
opinion that the preparedness program will compensate in good measure for the loss of
the stimulus of actual war.
Here we have the Wall Street view. Here we have the man representing the class of people
who will be made prosperous should we become entangled in the present war, who have
already made millions of dollars, and who will make many hundreds of millions more if we get
into the war. Here we have the cold-blooded proposition that war brings prosperity to that
class of people who are within the viewpoint of this writer.
He expresses the view, undoubtedly, of Wall Street, and of thousands of men elsewhere who
see only dollars coming to them through the handling of stocks and bonds that will be
necessary in case of war. "Canada and Japan,," he says, "are at war, and are more
prosperous than ever before."
To whom does war bring prosperity? Not to the soldier who for the munificent compensation
of $16 per month shoulders his musket and goes into the trench, there to shed his blood and
to die if necessary; not to the brokenhearted widow who waits for the return of the mangled
body of her husband; not to the mother who weeps at the death of her brave boy; not to the
little children who shiver with cold; not to the babe who suffers from hunger; nor to the millions
of mothers and daughters who carry broken hearts to their graves. War brings no prosperity
to the great mass of common and patriotic citizens. It increases the cost of living of those who
toil and those who already must strain every effort to keep soul and body together. War
brings prosperity to the stock gambler on Wall Street--to those who are already in possession
of more wealth than can be realized or enjoyed.
Again this writer says that if we cannot get war, "it is nevertheless good opinion that the
preparedness program will compensate in good measure for the loss of the stimulus of actual
war." That is, if we cannot get war, let us go as far in that direction as possible. If we cannot
get war, let us cry for additional ships, additional guns, additional munitions, and everything
else that will have a tendency to bring us as near as possible to the verge of war. And if war
comes, do such men as these shoulder the musket and go into the trenches?
Their object in having war and in preparing for war is to make money. Human suffering and
the sacrifice of human life are necessary, but Wall Street considers only the dollars and the
cents. The men who do the fighting, the people who make the sacrifices are the ones who will
not be counted in the measure of this great prosperity that he depicts. The stockbrokers
would not, of course, go to war because the very object they have in bringing on the war is
profit, and therefore they must remain in their Wall Street offices in order to share in that great
prosperity which they say war will bring. The volunteer officer, even the drafting officer, will
not find them. They will be concealed in their palatial offices on Wall Street, sitting behind
mahogany desks, covered up with clipped coupons,coupons soiled with the sweat of honest
toil, coupons stained with mothers' tears, coupons dyed in the lifeblood of their fellowmen.
We are taking a step today that is fraught with untold danger. We are going into war upon the
command of gold. We are going to run the risk of sacrificing millions of our countrymen's lives
in order that other countrymen may coin their lifeblood into money. And even if we do not
cross the Atlantic and go into the trenches, we are going to pile up a debt that the tolling
masses that shall come many generations after us will have to pay. Unborn millions will bend
their backs in toil in order to pay for the terrible step we are now about to take.
We are about to do the bidding of wealth's terrible mandate. By our act we will make millions
of our countrymen suffer, and the consequences of it may well be that millions of our brethren
must shed their lifeblood, millions of brokenhearted women must weep, millions of children
must suffer with cold, and millions of babes must die from hunger, and all because we want to
preserve the commercial right of American citizens to deliver munitions of war to belligerent
|Speech by Nebraska Senator George W. Norris (1861-1944)
In 1917, as the United States was preparing to enter World War I, Senator Norris found himself on the
unpopular side of an issue as he voted against U.S. entry into the conflict. For this act of conscience he was
vilified throughout the nation and at home. Yet, he returned to Nebraska and they again returned him to the
Senate and George Norris represented Nebraska in Congress for over forty years.