Asle Gronna on the League of Nations

Asle Gronna, a Republican senator from North Dakota, was in many ways the most
thoughtful of the peace progressives. Perhaps the most liberal member of the Senate
in 1919, he had voted against the declaration of war in 1917. Below are excerpts
from Gronna's major address against League membership, delivered on October 24, 1919.


In connection with this covenant, which proposes an international organization invested, as it is, with that I believe to be arbitrary and almost unlimited power, I feel that we should carefully look into the subject and ascertain what has been done by the Governments which are to be our partners in this colossal enterprise.


If this double-headed contract only provided for specific obligations and performances, setting forth in plain, unmistakable terms what the obligations are, we might overlook the novelty of the scheme. But the most unfortunately and objectionable features of the covenant are its provisions setting up a supergovernment with unlimited powers defined in vague and indefinite language.


Some people seem to believe that this covenant embodies a new theory of promoting peace, but it does not, because in theory as well as in practice the making of peace treaties and alliances is as old as the world itself . . . I know of no treaties or alliances by nay nation or nations in which there have not been provisions to safeguard and protect most carefully the sovereignty of the nations or parties in interest.


So let us not attempt the impossible, but let us proceed in a sane and practical manner; let us protect our own people first--the people of the United States--with confidence and full assurance and belief that we shall in the future as we have in the past, to the utmost of our ability, assist the helpless, defend the defenseless, assist and protect the oppressed, and to the best of our ability aid and support the people of the nations which may suffer injustice., But I believe that the people of the United States will resent the idea, and will take it as an insult, to be told by a council composed mostly of aliens that we must do thus and so.


You know as well as I do that this covenant will not be a promoter of lasting peace; no covenant can be made to promote a lasting peace unless it is based upon the fundamental principles of justice and equality.


If we ratify this covenant as proposed, we bind ourselves and our posterity to support the dominant powers of every nation that belongs to this league, and to participate in their wars, their struggles, and their troubles; and the question of self-determination will have been completely defeated and destroyed . . . This covenant in its present form would set up an autocracy with powers unrivaled or unheard of among the family of man.

[On Article 10], I doubt if any two members of this body or any two citizens anywhere would agree upon the construction and the meaning of this article. I may be entirely mistaken in my analysis and my conclusions, but I interpret it to mean that the members of the league agree to preserve and protect the existing political independence of all the members of the league. I construe the last sentence of this paragraph to mean that in any case of aggression or assault, or in case of any threat against any member of the league, the council shall advise what steps are to be taken and what means are to be employed in order that the obligations entered into shall be fulfilled . . .

In all probability the people of the United States would likely do what the friends of this measure say they must do, but it is very clear to me that if the executive council should command that the United States send her soldiers abroad to protest some European, Asiatic, or African nationality, and if the United States should refuse until Congress had so declared, we would have violated Article 10, because the language is so plain and so clear that it cannot be misunderstood by anyone.

[On Article 11], this article makes it possible for any member of the league to summon a meeting of the council, and to interfere with any war or threat of war, whether it affects any of the members of the league or not. In other words, this supergovernment undertakes to dictate and regulate the affairs of every nation on the face of the globe. Can it be possible that such a policy would promote peace? And does anyone believe that it would be possible for the dominant powers of the league at any time in the future to reduce armaments to a minimum? Is it not reasonable to believe that munitions and armaments must be increased on a tremendously large scale, so that peace may be enforced by war, and that no small nation shall have the right to demand reform, regardless of how oppressed, or of how brutal the treatment of its people may be by the dominant nation which may happen to be a member of the league? . . . I wonder what has become of the idealistic 14 points.

To be consistent, we cannot claim that we advocate peace and at the same time do the things which we know will provoke war. We are either in favor of peace or we are in favor of war. We cannot serve two masters.

To adopt this proposed covenant would be to give the lie to the principles for which we said we fought. We were told by the leaders of Great Britain, of France, of Italy, of Japan, as well as by the leaders of this Government, that this war was waged in the interest of humanity and democracy, in the interest of self-determination and oppressed people. How can we at this moment, before this horrible war has completely ended, before peace has been officially declared, how can we look any liberty-loving human being in the face and say that we are carrying out our pledges in good faith?

This proposed treaty provides for the enforcement of peace by force, by the sword, by waging war, and it takes from the peoples of every nation on the face of the globe the right to have a voice in the matter. So in this matter, so important to the welfare of the human family, you are setting up a supergovernment ruled by what we hope may be a few benevolent despots; but, if we miss our guess, so that instead of directing their energies in the interest of benevolence, justice, and peace, if they desire to become autocrats, there is absolutely nothing to prevent them from becoming the greatest tyrants the world has ever known; and yet you call this a league to establish peace.