Amazing Plan to Make Manufacture of Munitions a Crime and Place All War Material Under International Committee Control, 1921



Submitted to the Washington Disarmament Conference by EDGAR PARK

Editorial Note. -- That armament manufacturers should take the initiative in in a movement to make the private manufacture and development of war material a capital crime is possibly the biggest surprise which the Washington Conference has brought forth. The World is in a position to state unqualifiedly, however, that Mr. Park, whose interview follows, is by no means alone in the stand he has taken here. Later developments will show that leading arms manufacturers of the country agree that armament making is the original "ill will that blows nobody any good," and that there is no money in such enterprises, even for the supposed profiteers, in time of war.

By Charles W. Wood.

An explosive bomb was carried into the Arms Conference a week or so ago. Not much was said about it in the papers, and it is possible that the delegates themselves are not yet aware of what happened. But they soon will be. The bomb, you see, hasn't exploded yet; but it is there -- right under their desks -- and every expert who has looked at it and backed away in flabbergasted silence is of the opinion that there is no way on earth to prevent the explosion. The delegates, to be sure, have all planned to get out of the trenches by Christmas; but the best laid plans of mice and diplomats aft gang [blooey], or words to that effect, so it is just possible that said delegates will be compelled, instead, to stick around Washington until they have abolished war.

The maker of the bomb didn't wrap it up in just these words. The suggestion he made to Gen. Pershing as Chairman of the American Committee on Land Armament contained no resolution that war forthwith be abolished. It was just a tip, it seemed, a business note from a business man, as to how certain economies might be effected. The signer too was Edgar Park, former President and organizer of the Marlin-Rockwell Arms Corporation, one of the biggest manufacturers of machine guns during the late unpleasantness. Who ever heard of an armament manufacturer devising a plan to make war impossible? Well, if Mr. Park's suggestion is adopted by the nations concerned and war is not made impossible I know a number of very intelligent people who will be mightily surprised.

"The people of every nation," said Mr. Park's memorandum, "are convinced that the private development and manufacture of munitions of war is extravagant, inefficient and improper; that it acts as an incentive to war and constitutes a perpetual pro-war influence."

"Quite an admission, coming from a munitions man," I said to Mr. Park, as he showed me the memorandum.

"What strikes you hardest in the paragraph?" he asked.

"The admission," I said, "that the private manufacture of arms is a perpetual pro-war influence."

"Will you read it again?" he said.

I read it again, and one word stuck out above all the others. It was the word "development." Government ownership of armament factories had been suggested often enough, but here was something new. The man was hitting at the private development of all death-dealing devices. I read on:

"The cause of peace, reduced expenditure and maximum efficiency suggest the concentration of the manufacture, invention and development of all devices or agencies, explosives, aerial, mechanical, chemical or other, for use in war, under an international agreement."

Now, read that paragraph over, word by word, and decide for yourself whether or not it is explosive. It makes no noise at first, but neither do the newest of the chemical bombs. They just drop in, like an obscure paragraph, and pretty soon the gas begins to escape and in a few more minutes there is nothing much left in the whole vicinity except the gas. It's just like that, sometimes, with an idea. An international agreement to control not only the manufacture but the development of war devices! If it could be brought about, why of course -- but could it be? A man's invention at least is his own property, isn't it?

"I knew a man once," Mr. Park reminisced, "who invented a wonderful process for making $20 bills. But the tyrannical Government not only refused to give him a patent but actually took the invention away from him and put him in jail for life besides. The man made a grave mistake. Money is sacred, and any tampering with it on the part of an individual will not be tolerated; we all know why, of course, and nobody except the criminal would think of objecting. What the man should have done, instead of inventing something which would have a tendency to depreciate our currency, was to invent a wholesale scheme for the extermination of human life. Then the Government would have given him a patent and he could incorporate under the laws of the State and build factories and make all the machines that he could ever hope to sell. And if they didn't sell -- if there wasn't a war scare anywhere sufficiently acute to furnish a lively market -- he could start jingo newspapers in other countries to stir up feeling against us. Then he could send a lobby to Washington with copies of these jingo editorials and sooner or later the market would be sure."

If human life were only as sacred as $20 bills! That is hardly the way to put it, either, for everybody, individually, does consider it far more sacred; but somehow, so far, we have failed to get this human appreciation of values into our institutions and laws. We prohibit the manufacture of certain drinks which a large percentage of our population concededly wants; but we don't prohibit the manufacture of shells which nobody except the violently insane could possibly want to give or take. But could any nation effect such a prohibition? Let us read another paragraph or two from the memorandum to Gen. Pershing:

"Every nation desiring to participate (in this international agreement) to be represented in proportion to its population on an International Committee.

"Each subscribing Government to commit itself to making the private or secret invention, development or manufacture of munitions of war illegal and punishable by the maximum penalty of each Government's criminal code; and a provision under which it would be compulsory for individuals or corporations to submit to the proper national authority representing the International Committee any such devices, agencies, [etc.], as planned or invented."

Nothing yet about the abolition of war. Nothing even to suggest that the manufacture of munitions be stopped. But the private manufacture and development of these instruments of death is recognized in this straight business proposal as being quite absurd. Is there a military expert who will take issue with this? Is there a delegate to the Arms Conference who would enter a denial? But stop a minute and consider how the adoption of such a plan would inevitably work out. It was not the plan itself, which was sweetly reasonable enough for anybody, which caused the experts with whom Mr. Park consulted to pause and reflect and then to whistle and gasp. It was not the proposal, it was the inevitable consequence.

Suppose the nations do enter into such an agreement. It has now become a capital offense for any person or corporation to engage in any way in the development of any death-dealing devices. But nations must protect themselves. There are disorders within and fears without. France is still afraid of Germany, say, and Germany is afraid of a Hohenzollern plot. How shall security and order be maintained?

By appealing to the International Committee, of course. No, not to a League of Nations. Not to a World Court. At least there is no mention here of any such tribunal. But this committee, answering the urgent need of the nations which constituted it, shall have a world monopoly in the manufacture of war material. There is only one way, after all, in which any one can get or ever could get war material -- that is, to get it from its manufacturers. That method must inevitably be followed now.

Remember, first, that each nation is represented on this committee in proportion to its population, and, next, that each nation, for its own safety, has prohibited any other body from having anything to do with the development of arms and armament. Now, according to Mr. Park's suggestion, the International Committee will select "the most desirable locality or localities which, when chosen, should become neutral territory, for the development and manufacture of munitions.

"The International Committee," says the next paragraph, "to be authorized to determine the desirability as to type, design and quantity of munitions to be manufactured, the [program] of operations with budget to be duly submitted to the participating Governments; the cost of the operations to be met by appropriations from the participating Governments, each in proportion to its population."

And then:

"The International Committee to allot arms to the participating Governments for the maintenance of law and suppression of internal disorder, guided by the estimates of the participants."

"And in the event of war" -- yes, that is the way the last paragraph begins. So far from decreeing the end of war, this business man's proposal made every allowance for it.

"In the event of war," it says, "munitions to be distributed by the International Committee to the nations involved in proportion to their percentage of interest in the international plan."

Do you get it? Perfect national autonomy preserved for all defensive purposes; but since every nation is internally disarmed, this defense isn't calculated to cost any of them very much. But, more than that, if any nations want to fight, they are entitled to do so, far as this committee is concerned. If Australia decides to attack Borneo, and Borneo is willing, who wants a super-state to butt in and forbid the match? But if just one of them wants to fight and the other doesn't, that's a different matter. You have all [entrusted] the manufacture and development of all war material to this neutral concern. You did it because it was good business. You did it because it was good sense. You did it because you weren't safe, either from within or without, unless you took some such step. And now, if you are going to continue the service, you've got to play according to the rules. You can't fight without an opponent, for we won't let you have anything to fight with. But if Australia and Borneo are both agreeable, -- let's see: Australia's allotment is so and so, and Borneo's is such and such. We can get these delivered under international guard just about so quick. The fight then will begin, Wednesday, August 'steenth, at 2.30 P.M.

Somewhat ridiculous, is it not? Well, the men to whom Mr. Park has privately submitted his proposal -- and Mr. Park, by the way, is the type of big business man who knows where to look for the keenest criticism and advice -- these men all agree that his suggestion would make war just as ridiculous as that. There would be no war, they say. There couldn't be. I am not at liberty to mention names just now, but one of these men summed up the situation in words about like this:

"Several hundred millions of the earth's inhabitants, combatants and non-combatants, recently engaged in a war that was to end war. The war didn't do anything of that sort, and after three years of armistice the powers got together again to see if there were not some possible way in which the burden of militarism could be lightened. The League of Nations had been rejected, and a World Court which would have no power was seriously considered to take its place. But practically all that the Washington Conference could do was to propose a plan to scrap some battleships, depending upon the honor of the separate Governments even to comply with this agreement. Now the conference is going to disband -- in time, the conferees hope, to permit them to eat their Christmas dinner with their families.

"In the [meantime], everyone who is acquainted with the development of war munitions knows the next war will not be a battleship war. The next war will be a chemical war. It will be ten times more deadly than the world horror of 1914-1918. No nation which participates -- and experience teaches us that all nations are quite certain to be dragged in -- will be safe from practical extinction in such a conflict as this; for the battle is no longer to the strong. Some inconsequential state which happened to get in a lucky blow might easily annihilate half a continent. Such a war may be averted, but it cannot be averted by mere promissory notes exchanged between the powers which are most concerned. It can be averted only by some sort of world action, but up to now no concrete action has been proposed.

"Mr. Park's plan definitely complies with every requirement. It is not the dream of an idealist. It is a hard business proposition on the part of a man who squarely considered the facts. It violates nobody's sense of reality; and even if it did not have this world significance it would still be a [common sense] efficiency [program] for the nations to adopt. But with a world conference still in session -- a conference whose keynote is "How shall we civilized nations discover a way in which we can protect ourselves from each other?" -- is it too much to expect that they shall stay in session until they shall have [endorsed] or rejected this concrete plan, which, if it were adopted, would make war both unnecessary and impossible?"

Let me say a word or two now about Mr. Park. He is anything but the type of man you would expect a [program] for world transition. He is the typical American business organizer and promoter. He is dynamic whether at work or at play. His enthusiasms have generally run to business schemes, and it has never occurred to him that he was born to save mankind. Successful, generous, but seemingly carefree, with a sense of humor that always kept his enthusiasms from running away with him, he experienced a change which thousands of others experienced during the war. Then his enthusiasms did run away with him. Beyond all thought of business and profit was the emotional fury of the time -- the religious, patriotic determination to produce all the wholesale death which could possibly be shipped to Germany.

But the war did not accomplish what he and millions had expected of it. It failed to make the world safe for anybody. Only a few weeks ago he was sitting with a group of acquaintances with whom this rather pessimistic thought was uppermost. Some of them were idealists. Some of them were critical of the conference proceedings in Washington.

"What would you do, Park?" one of them asked carelessly.

It was the first time the question had ever been brought home to him. He was interested in it, of course, and had been eager for the daily news, but never before had it been put up to him to state a plan. He thought out loud. Within a few minutes the whole scheme was before him.

"It was so darn simple," he told me, "that I was afraid to take it seriously myself. I wasn't thinking at first of world peace; I was thinking of the utterly chaotic conditions under which this country began to manufacture war munitions. I was thinking of efficiency and economy; but the more we looked at the scheme the more we saw how impossible war under such conditions would be. But was that, after all, a fatal defect? The conference, to be sure, was not formally a peace conference, and its only announced intention was to limit armament. But if the nations should accidentally end war by actually limiting armaments instead of simply agreeing to do so, I cannot believe that many citizens of the world [today] would kick."

"Would you invite Germany into such a world agreement?" I asked. "Would you allow her to participate in the proposed International Committee?"

"The very first nations to be invited," he answered, "should be those from whom we have the most to fear. A scheme to prevent burglary which would refuse to put any restrictions upon burglars would not exactly appeal to me. Germany, Russia, Japan, all the nations that are armed or arming, are most vitally concerned. We would not have to depend upon their promises, either, if such a scheme as this were once adopted. It would be adopted only because their self-interest compelled the step, and self-interest would compel each nation to continue the plan. So long as each nation is developing and manufacturing its own war material I doubt if a League of Nations could hold together. Only through a world monopoly of such deadly power as science has discovered during the past few years can any national group feel in the least secure.

"But the problem is even more inclusive than that of national war. Any considerable group of persons in the United States [today] could practically destroy the country if they would set about to manufacture poison gas. It need not be a majority. It need not include the whole population of one small town. A group of Anarchists, say, or foreign conspirators. All this is necessary is incorporation, a slight capitalization, the employment of a few experts, and actual operations. I know a scientist [today] experimenting with air torpedoes. The torpedo is discharged from an [airplane] by wireless, and the [airplane] is operated by wireless from the ground. If this man, he could destroy any city in the United States without harm to himself, and the law could not touch him, for no one could prove that he meant to let the torpedo fall just there.

"This man is a good man and won't harm anybody, but is it safe to allow such power in promiscuous private hands? The power exists. It results from scientific discoveries which cannot be forgotten at will. Something must be done about it, and that something must be something upon which we can all agree. No nation will allow any other nation to monopolize this power; we may depend upon that. It must be [entrusted] to an international agency; there is no other way out.

"I know that an American full of patriotic traditions dreads to think of any power superior to his Government. But however we may dread to recognize it, the sum is greater than any of its parts and the world is more important than any nation on earth. The point is, however, that true patriotism demands that we shall agree to inaugurate this world insurance; for as the situation is at present- a situation very well known to every large manufacturer of armaments -- no nation in all the world is safe."