Tasker Howard Bliss to Newton D. Baker


Tasker Howard Bliss to Newton D. Baker


Bliss, Tasker Howard, 1853-1930




1918 October 9


General Bliss supports limits on arms in Europe to prevent further war.


Library of Congress, Woodrow Wilson Papers


Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum


March, Peyton Conway, 1864-1955
World War, 1914-1918--Armistices
World War, 1914-1918--United States


Danna Faulds






Document scan was taken from Library of Congress microfilm reel of the Wilson Papers. WWPL volunteers transcribed the text.



No. 28.

My dear Mr. Secretary:

I have just written a letter to General March, No. 27, in the same series as those which I have been writing to you. You may remember that I told you while you were here that as these letters of mine to the Secretary of War and the Chief of Staff are on the same general line of subjects I have numbered them in the same series.

I am sending an additional copy of my No. 27 of today addressed to General March, in order that you may put it on your file if you so desire. General March can give you copies of the others that I have written to him during your absence from Washington, or I can have them made here and send them to you.

I assume you will be in Washington when this courier reaches there.

You were at my house on the afternoon of Thursday, October 3d (a few hours prior to your departure for home), when I was considering the attitude which I ought to take on the drafts of two Joint Notes proposed by the French Military Representative and at the request of M. Clemenceau, one of them on the general subject of a policy to be pursued by the allies in Russia and the other on the specific subject of sending American reinforcements to Archangel. I had set forth my general views in a letter which you read at the time and to which you gave your approval. In that letter I called attention to the fact that the United States, so far as I knew, had not entered into a formal alliance with any European power but was merely associated with the European allies in the prosecution of the war against Germany and in doing so was actuated by a spirit of the utmost cordiality and co-operation; but that it plainly reserved the right to use its military forces as seemed best to it, yielding only to the views and desires of the European allies when those views were in accordance with a well considered and conscientious policy on the part of the United States. As I told you that I intended to do, I made a concise draft of the views expressed in my letter to you and submitted it to the Military Representatives at their meeting on Monday, October 7th. But I decided to omit any specific reference to the fact that the United States was not in formal alliance with any one here, because it seemed to me wiser not to put in anything more than was absolutely necessary to make perfectly clear the policy of the United States.

It seems difficult to make some people here understand that the United States is actuated by any principle or that it has any conscientious policy. I think that the reason is that some of them do not believe there is any connection between “policy” and their conscience. At any rate, one of the Representatives quite ignored the fact that I had made clear that the allies were pursuing a policy which ran counter to the one adopted by the United States for itself, and insisted on knowing whether I would sign the note provided there was stricken out if it all reference to the sending of American reinforcements to Archangel and to using American troops to push through Siberia the entire length of the Trans-Siberian Railway and in the general pacification of the country. If they were stricken from the draft of the note, and the note were still presented for approval to the President of the United States it would be tantamount to an attempt to force from him an approval of a policy adopted by the allies which he had already decided (and I know as yet nothing to the contrary) that he could not and would not adopt. Therefore, of course, I could not sign the note in any event. I therefore submitted a second statement to make my reason for this clear.

I have submitted the statement of the whole case to March in my letter to him of this date, together with copies of the documents, which he will show you.

While you were on the water a very important subject came up here, which is explained in my official cablegrams to the War Department Nos. 242, 243, and 244. The three Prime Ministers, -- of Great Britain, France, and Italy, -- have been in session here in Paris (not at Versailles), together with various members of their respective cabinets. It is understood that the first object of their meeting was to try to come to some agreement about the Balkans. What agreement, if any, they reached is not known. They find themselves now in the situation which pretty much all of us have anticipated for a good while. The British Section here at Versailles has been, for a long time, urging its government to get together with its allies and try to thrash out in advance all of the points which will have to be settled when the resistance of the Central Powers collapses. But none of them believed that that resistance would collapse in certain quarters so completely and suddenly as it has, or that there would be such evidence of a general collapse of it everywhere, before at least next year. They have dreaded to get together and try to settle the “after-the-war” difficulties. They have foreseen the possibilities of the discord that would result from throwing the golden apple into the ring. They have feared (and perhaps wisely) that it might bring about a lack of cohesion in their alliance or entente which would weaken them and encourage the enemy. At any rate, they have done nothing and now suddenly find themselves confronted with the fact that the settlement of some of these difficult questions is pressing them.

The other thing that occupied the attention of the Ministers, as I learned late in the evening of Monday, October 7, was the question of a general armistice with the Central Powers. At 9 o’clock on the evening of Monday, October 7 I received a copy of the resolution arrived at at a conference of the Ministers that same day putting up for consideration certain questions to the Military Representatives at Versailles in association with representatives of the four navies.

I inclose a copy of this resolution marked “A”. Immediately on its receipt I cabled it to Washington in my No. 242, with a request for instructions. I was informed that a meeting of the Military Representatives, with the associated representatives of the four navies, would be held at 9.15 the following morning.

It is not too much to say that I was somewhat appalled at the idea of having such an important subject “sprung” upon me at night in bed, and to be told at the same time that it was to be settled at 9.15 the next morning. However, it had the one good effect of curing me of my illness! I thought over the matter long that night, perplexed because of my absolute ignorance of what might have been done already between the respective governments on this subject, because of my ignorance of the attitude that had been or would be taken by the United States, and also because of the underlying meaning which seemed to me to be involved in this action of the three Prime Ministers. I had taken note of the fact announced in the daily journals that a proposal had been made direct from Germany to the government of the United States. I did not know to what extent, if any, that government was conferring on the subject with its European associates in the war. I had to assume that, even if such had been the case, no definite common agreement had been arrived at; else, why should the three Prime Ministers take this matter up by themselves? It is evident that they were not acting as members of the Supreme War Council of which the President of the United States is the fourth member. The document which they presented to me, as well as to the other Military Representatives, was prepared at a “Conference of Ministers at a Meeting, etc.” It was not merely a conference of Prime Ministers but one in which other ministers of the respective governments took part. It was not acted on by the Military Representatives at Versailles in their capacity as Military Representatives on the Supreme War Council, but was acted upon by what was in reality a committee of those representatives together with certain naval representatives who have no connection whatever with the Supreme War Council.

Nor could I determine in my own mind what was intended to be done with the opinion which might be rendered by this committee of military and naval representatives after it had been given.to Mr. Lloyd George and M. Clemenceau and M. Orlando. I asked myself the question, “Did they intend to submit this opinion (if they approve it themselves) to the President of the United States?” If so, it would look as though they intended it to be a declaration to the government of the United States as to their determination on a subject which they knew was under consideration in Washington. If they did not intend to do this, I again asked myself the question, “Did they intend that it should indirectly get before the government in Washington through a report which they had every reason to know would be made by me?” If so, it would look still more as though they intended to influence the decision of the government in Washington on the question which they knew was then pending before it. I felt sure that if they did not intend or want that I should make such a report, they would not have attempted to associate me with the matter but would have called for the opinion of their own military and naval representatives.

The meeting was held at 9.15 a.m. on Tuesday, October 8th. I was not present, although the night before I had intended to be there. I sent word that the doctor did not want me to go out until he gave me permission, which was the exact fact. He came in on the evening of the same day and gave me permission to go out to-day. I allowed my Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the American Section, together with Captain Jackson of the Navy, to be present, but told them in advance that no official action could be taken by the Americans in the absence of instructions from Washington.

Shortly after the meeting was over there was submitted to me a copy of the “Joint Opinion” drawn up by the Committee, and of which I inclose two copies as contained in my telegram No. 244 of last night to the War Department. Later in the day the British Military Representative called at my house and I then learned from him that the matter had been under consideration by his Section during the day and the night before; and that they had drawn up a draft which was the one adopted, substantially, by the Committee. He said that it had been discussed with the British Chief of Staff, General Sir Henry Wilson, and that it was prepared, as he considered it, from the purely military point of view, but that he did not know whether his government would approve it nor whether the other governments would approve it. He expressed surprise when I told him that the French Military Representative had sent to me at my house for signature copies of the document with the statement that the Prime Ministers wanted it signed before three o’clock. He said that he had no understanding that such was the request of the Prime Ministers.

However, I declined to sign it and immediately addressed a note to the three Prime Ministers telling them that I could not do so without instructions from my government. Of course, they all understand why I cannot sign it without such instructions and I am sure that they did not really expect me to do so.

The document will have been under consideration in Washington before you reach there. It will have been discovered there, as you will note when you see it, that it is couched in such terms as make inevitable and to be intended to make inevitable the reply which Germany must make. Of course, it may be that she feels beaten to such a degree that she will accept such conditions as a precedent to an armistice, but I doubt it. But of course it is not an armistice in the ordinary sense of the word. It looks to me as though it were intended to say, “We will not treat with you on the terms of President Wilson’s fourteen propositions or on any other terms. Surrender, and we will then do as we please”. It looks to me as though it were intended to say to the United States that these are the conditions which the United States must inform Germany are the necessary precedent to considering any proposition for an armistice.

I myself believe that the laying down of arms by Germany is a necessary precedent to any conversation with her. Whether it is wise to impose such other conditions as may make it impossible for her to lay down her arms, even though by her doing so she puts herself in such a position that we can demand from her all of our war aims, I leave it for others to decide. Judging from the spirit which seems to more and more actuate our European allies, I am beginning to dispair that the war will accomplish much more than the abolition of German militarism while leaving European militarism as rampant as ever. I am one of those who believe that the absolute destruction of all militarism, under any of its evil forms is the only corner stone of the foundation of any League (I like better the French term “Societe”) of Nations. I think that the present war will prove a doubly hideous crime if it does not result in something that will make another such war, or anything faintly approaching it, an impossibility for a hundred years to come. I look no further than that, because if the world, the civilized world, can be made to stop fighting for a hundred years there is some hope that it may stop fighting forever.

“What is that “Something”? There are some who say that it is the destruction of Prussian militarism; others, that it is a League of Nations. There are few, so far as I can find here, who lay stress on the Third (I think it is the third, but I have not the document by me) of President Wilson’s declaration of fourteen war aims, -- the limitation of armaments to the necessities for the maintenance of internal order. Yet I think that that third declaration will be found to be the very essence, the health-giving principle, of any attempted remedy for the cure of this war-sick world and without which the remedy will prove nothing but well-meant quackery. It will be an attempt to cure an ulcer without purifying the poisoned blood.

In looking to the future peace of the world it is a mistake I think to lay so much stress on Prussian militarism. It may soothe our guilty souls by doing do, by saying that “Prussia did it first”. That kind of plea was first made in the Garden of Eden, and it no more clears our skirts of sin to-day than it did then. Looking to the future, the curse of the world to-day is “European militarism”. Prussia, or rather a Prussianized Germany, has given us a present exhibition of what this curse can be; but it is a German ulcer on the European body growing out of the rotten European blood. And for practical purposes, for the purposes of the scientific physician, it makes no difference that it was Prussia that introduced into the European system the evil, blood-putrifying germ. It is there, in the blood of all Europe, and it must be gotten out.

And, that what I have said is in the back of the head of the average American at the plough-tail, at the counting office desk, at the throttle of a million engines, would, I believe, appear if you were to announce that our main war aim is to destroy German militarism. I believe they would say, “We are in this war to destroy MILITARISM not merely militarism ‘camouflaged’ as German or French or Russian, or under any other of its evil aspects. We want to guarantee ourselves against the necessity of having to take up the burden under which Europe, and not Germany alone, has been staggering. What guarantee have we that if we crush one giant out of a dozen some one of the others may not acquire his powers and with his powers his spirit and use his giant’s strength like a giant? If we take his revolver away from one man on Pennsylvania Avenue or Broadway because he has misused it and leave theirs in the hands of 99 other men, what guarantee have we that one of these, by himself or in combination with others, may not misuse his revolver? After having determined that none of them needs a revolver we will take it away from all of them; and unwillingness of any one to submit will be an evidence of his intent to misuse it”.

And when the time comes for cold blooded international politicians to sit around a table to consider the future conditions of the world it is possible that we will see some unexpected developments if their discussions are not to be conducted on the basic fact that all militarism in its present development is definitely a thing of the past. There has been, as it seems to me, a curious revival of French Ambitions. She has a growing desire for possessions in the East or near East; and the ultimate disposition of German colonial territory is as much a subject of anxious thought with her as it is with England and Japan and even Italy. She looks to a reconstituted Russia under a government that will make her what she was before. This may be a dream; but dreams sometimes come true, -- especially with sufficient time. And world-politicians look a long ways ahead. But with Germany reduced to a military nullity and every other nation militarized or navalized or both, who is to stand between her and a reconstituted Russia? Who can she play off against England in disputes, backed by force of arms, about over-sea possessions? What reason have we in history for believing that if world conditions continue as they have been, except that German will have been reduced to military helplessness, the alliances and ententes which have grown out of fear of Germany’s overweening strength will not dissolve and that other alliances will not grow out of other fears and with like results? Countless questions will arise which never would arise if this war could end with the abolition of military power in a form that can be directed readily and quickly by one nation against another.

But, it is when we come to consider the practicability of a League of Nations, that is to say a League for Peace, that a radical change in existing world conditions, as respects world-militarism becomes especially evident. What can be more inconsistent, even absurd, than to imagine a League of Nations for the maintenance of peace composed of nations all armed to the teeth -- against whom? -- against each other? That cannot give the slightest guarantee of peace. That will not relieve the world of its present intolerable burden. And what do we want such a League for unless it be to relieve us from this burden? Suppose such a League had been formed five or six years ago. Germany and Austria would have been members of it. What would prevent them from saying, just as they did say to each other, “We want certain things that the League will not let us have. We, together, are stronger than they; we have more and better trained soldiers, better weapons, and a greater accumulation of military stores, than they. We can whip the League, we can whip the world; let us do it”. Suppose, as a result of this war, that Germany is reduced to military powerlessness for a generation to come while other world conditions remain unchanged; what guarantee have you that some other nation, or combination of them, may not do what Germany and Austria have done? What agreement, what form of Constitution or Articles of Federation can be made by the nations of a League that will prevent this? Have Constitutions prevented rebellions? Have articles of Confederation prevented Secession?

But, you will say, our war aims look to the prevention of larger military establishments than are necessary to maintain internal order. Rem acu tetegisti! I come back to what I said before, that the realization of the President’s declaration as to the reduction of armaments is absolutely vital to any proposition for the destruction of militarism and the effective creation of a League of Nations. It seems, off-hand, a declaration easy to realize; but it is not. We have to hammer the idea into the minds of the world while the common peoples are in a receptive mood for it, or the governments of the world will defeat it. It is now, while the prestige and influence of the United States is predominate that we should do this. The peoples just now are sick of the whole thing. I do not mean, of course, that they want to stop, because they realize the necessity of going to the end. But they are sick of the conditions that cause this necessity. Now is the time to hold out hope for the future and to create a popular sentiment that will dominate the Congress that is to adjust affairs after the war.

Very cordially yours,

(Sig’d) Tasker H. Bliss.

Hon. Newton D. Baker,
Secretary of War,
Washington, DC., U.S.A.

3 inclosures.

Original Format



Baker, Newton Diehl, 1871-1937





Bliss, Tasker Howard, 1853-1930, “Tasker Howard Bliss to Newton D. Baker,” 1918 October 9, WWP25241, World War I Letters, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.