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Concerning Mr. Roosevelt's Letter.


To the Editors of the Crimson:

May I speak a word of caution, very likely quite unnecessary, against accepting Mr. Roosevelt's violent arraignment of Harvard College opinion in your columns as representative of the general position of the graduates, or for that matter, as a fair example of the tone usually taken on this subject by educated and thoughtful men anywhere? Of the significance of the Monroe doctrine, and its place in international law I have nothing to say, except that they can not be settled even by the most emphatic assertion, but must abide the decision of those who are qualified by their training and temper to discsus the subject; nor are the merits of the Venezuela question the issue chiefly raised by Mr. Roosevelt, for upon that subject his communication may be left to have its due weight in proportion to the reasonable and convincing force of his arguments, and I do not mean to intimate either agreement or disagreement with his main position. The thing now chiefly to be noticed is his assumption that any criticism of the position taken by the government is disloyal,- "a discredit to Harvard College," "a spiritless submission to English demands," "The stock-jobbing timidity, the Baboo kind of statesmanship which is clamored for at this moment by men who put monetary gain before national honor."

The United States, which has been only half aware that there was any Venezuela question, has suddenly been startled by an ultimate demand made upon the country with which we have the closest ties of interest and sympathy, and this coupled with an explicit threat of war. To warn the men of this University that any discussion or criticism of this position of our government can spring only from the lowest motives, and must instantly stop, involves such a novel idea of popular government and such a singular conception of patriotism that serious argument about it is almost impossible. For three weeks thinking men have talked of nothing else, and there has been no stint of outspoken criticism. Unless Mr. Roosevelt has it also on hand to go on and shut up the press, the pulpit, the market-place and the clubs it can hardly be worth his while to begin with muzzling this University. The plea that the government, right or wrong, must be supported is wholly out of place in this juncture. There are, of course, crises when the nation is engaged in a struggle from which it can not retreat, and then the paramount duty to save the country properly silences private doubts. But it does not follow that whenever the government proposes any position on foreign affairs all criticism shall be dumb, and the nation shall follow docilely into any extreme, even into a war which the people may abhor. What is popular government, if the people have surrendered their right to consider every step of a policy which is officially announced as destined to lead, in one not improbable alternative, to a conclusion which must convulse the nation and may affect the civilization of the world? The fact is that there never was a public question which stood more in need of immediate, full and open discussion. The people are very far from being united, and it would be a bold man who would venture now to rely on the country for support of any extremen position, and however determined Mr. Roosevelt himself may be he would no doubt admit that public opinion must be proved to be very united if an ultimatum of war is to be pushed. People by no means agree upon the original scope of the Monroe doctrine. That, perhaps is not of vital importance, for the doctrine henceforth is to be exactly what we now choose to make it; but when we came to this question the uncertainty is deep and almost universal. There are those who wish to warn the European powers wholly off the South American continent; there are others who insist that we have no rights there, but that it is for our interest to have it settled by any civilized people as fast as possible, and to keep clear ourselves of all entanglements with it. Between these positions there are all degrees, and any one who thinks that public opinion is ready to stake the country's honor on any extreme point can not have read the newspapers or talked with many men. In spite of our familiarity with the name of the Monroe Doctrine the question of our present foreign policy comes as a new one, so long have we happily been exempt from any serious complication, and we are now totally unprepared with any definite policy respecting South America which can command general public support. Discussion is above all what is wanted, and discussion the most radical and searching, for the importance of the decision can not be overestimated. It is not a question of triumphing over England on the particular issue now raised. That is of inferior importance either way. The momentous question is, to what, when this is settled, shall we find our country committed in the minds of our own countrymen and in the position of the great political parties.

There are problems involved in the matter now so unexpectedly precipitated which may well occupy us in anxious study. Is the Monroe Doctrine, whatever it is, a principle, the slightest infringement of which we must resist, or is it only a doctirne upon which we may fall back when our interest requires; has it yet a place in international law, or is it simply an assertion which we offer to make good by force; is the Venezuela incident such a menace to our interest as calls for the assertion of it; if so, shall it be asserted to the point of war or only so far as to prevent an implied surrender of it; does it involve the corrolary now asserted by our government, that "today the United States is practically sovereign on the continent, and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confirms its interposition;" does it involve the position, also asserted, "that distance and 3000 miles of intervening ocean make

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