The Causes of War
Charles Joseph Smith
[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, May-June
After twenty-one years of "peace," the dogs of war have
again been unleashed in Europe. Never before has the art of
destruction been conceived and carried out on the scale we are now
witnessing. What explanation can be offered for this new "Scourge
of God"? The [answer is in Progress and Poverty: "Unless
its foundations be laid in justice, the social structure cannot stand."
From the signing of the Versailles Treaty, economic injustice
continued to negative the hope that we (had fought a war to end wars.
Germany, probably more than any other people, needed surcease from
conflict freedom to produce and exchange, and live in peace. Though
she took on the form of a Republic, she persisted, however, in
clinging to the old ways. The mischievous effects of self-imposed
restrictions on her economic life and the stupid anti-trade policies
of the rest of the world, conspired to arouse in the Teutonic mind a
bitterness against her "encirclement." Still, from what we
know of the remarkable abilities of that people, is it not reasonable
to assume that they could have produced and prospered within their own
borders provided they had been ready to discard the practices that had
brought about an artificial scarcity of their land and resources?
Despite these limitations, they produced wealth sufficient to pay for
billions of dollars in armaments. Had this effort been expended in
constructive pursuits, it would have materially raised the standard of
comfort, and inspired a peaceful attitude. But the Junkers and their
satellites would not have it so. As a result the masses fell easy prey
to the mirage of Lebensraum. What followed was a fulfillment of Henry
George's prediction: "Strong, unscrupulous men, rising up upon
occasion, will become the exponents of blind popular desires or fierce
popular passions, and dash aside forms that have lost their vitality."
With the stage thus set, it would have been surprising indeed had the
Reich failed to envisage another Tag when it might rise again and
destroy its enemies.
Alarmed at the possibility of an extension of the Blitzkrieg, our own
Congress has voted a tremendous sum for the national defense. The
source of the appropriation has not been given much thought. A matter
of even graver concern is the likelihood of legislation that will curb
our individual liberties. The combating of "fifth column"
tactics is certain to create a system of espionage. Suspension of
civil rights will undoubtedly be urged to implement the technique
required for ferreting out subversive elements.
While the democracies are in no small degree responsible for the
present state of affairs, we can hardly on that account be indifferent
to their misfortunes. Nor would it serve any useful purpose to pass
moral judgment on the aggressors. From time immemorial history has
produced relentless warriors, and they have come to be accepted as
great figures. Rather, we wish only to point out that our hopes of
economic liberation are bound up with the fate of democracy. For in
its framework are the means of effecting such reforms as the people
want. That they are as yet unaware of what constitutes the true public
welfare is no fault of democracy.
Georgists frequently become discouraged at the indifference of
humanity to the greatest of all economic evils the system of land
tenure that bars them from the natural opportunities to which they are
born. Nevertheless, under democracy it is possible to put an end to
this injustice, and there are signs of progress. Denmark and other
countries have shown the way. In the United States there are
indications of an awakening to the seriousness of the economic
problem. Legislators may soon be impelled to heed the proposal of
socializing the rent of land and abolishing taxes. The right of free
speech and free press, under democracy, offers the hope that this
reform may be attained through educational processes.
Perhaps the proposed defense program will give the law makers an
opportunity to finance it in the only equitable way by a direct levy
on the land values of the nation. They might be reminded that this
method was employed to raise Federal taxes in the early days of our
Republic. The comparative ease with which the national defense
requirements could be thus carried out would encourage the application
of the same principle to the payment of all social services.
There are disturbing reports that the present conflict is to be
augmented by the entry of new belligerents. Our plans for defense are
to be stepped up accordingly. Equally disconcerting is the proposal
that they be financed out of new taxes on industry. If legislation
embodying such a mistake is passed, the entire armament program may be
jeopardized. It is a matter to which Georgeists should give their