We have always been proud, as a nation, of our peaceful character, and of our unwillingness to turn to violence until all other methods of settlement have been exhausted. But in strange contradiction to this, we have too often shown our readiness, in domestic matters, to resort far too hastily to extreme measures.
In our industrial dispites, in particular, this tendency has been apparent. A strike may sometimes be excusable; violence can never be excused. As contrasted with some other countries, we have been too apt to see great emergencies where none exist, and to resort to gun-play before there is any need.
Where one party begins the use of force, the other will inevitably retaliate. Where the employer calls for detectives, the police, or the militia, the workers are bound to arm themselves and adopt violent methods in their strike. Where the workers go armed, the employer is bound to call in additional force; and the vicious circle widens indefinitely, each side alleging self-protection as the cause for its acts. The recent series of affrays in Matewan, West Virginia, have already cost a dozen lives, detectives, strikers, and peaceful citizens being numbered among the slain. Such futile affairs as this need never occur, if only employer and employee alike could learn to refrain from provoking their opponents.
From the Boston Massacre to the present, we have seen that to summon armed force before it is needed can only act as a provocation for violence. The ability to keep cool in a crisis is unhappily too rare. Where it occurs, the crisis usually passes off without further friction. In labor disputes, perhaps more than anywhere else, violence can never be justified except as the last resort, in the face of actual danger. Its untimely use is invariably disastrous. When once we realize this, our labor conflicts will be at once less bloody and less frequent.