Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Journalist Expected Esperanto to End War

Teach your army Esperanto, and
they will be happy with simple uniforms.
Zamenhof’s very dream for Esperanto was that by improving communication between people of different native languages, it could reduce conflict in the world. Zamenhof wasn’t alone in that dream, and many of the people who hoped, at the beginning of the twentieth century, to end war forever believed that an international language would be instrumental in achieving this.

One publication that advocated this idea was the Westminster Reivew, a liberal publication that ran from 1823 to 1914. It was founded by the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham,[1] and the people listed on the Wikipedia page about it are a mini Who’s Who of nineteenth and early twentieth century British thought. Unfortunately, A. H. Weller, who is quoted in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser of September 23, 1907 is not one of the illustrious crowd who founded the Westminster Review, but a later, and more obscure individual. I have found little about him,[2] other than that he wrote other pieces on the danger of militarism for the Review.
The “fuss and feathers” of militarism are doomed, “the pomp and circumstance of glorious war” are to be things of the past, says A. H. Weller in that advanced and liberal journal, The Westminster Review (London). This writer deplores alike the terrible insubordination prevalent, as we read, in the French Army, the pompous and absurd officialism which papers like Simplicissimus (Munich) represent as so prevalent in the Germany Army, and the conscription with which a British war minister is threatening his country. A common language, he declares, is all that is required to bring about a common understanding among the nations and put an end to war’s barbarisms and barbarities. His amazing optimism puts to shame the Baxter who published polyglot editions of the Bible under the motto “Many are the tongues of earth; there is but one in heaven.” Mr. Weller thinks that one tongue on earth is likely to introduce universal peace. He writes as follows:

“As the workers of the world become better educated and more thoughtful, and are able to appreciate the horrors of war and the blessings of peace, militarism will die a natural death. It is believed by some people that a man proves his love for his own country by his hatred of some one’s else country, but this is as false as many other popular ideas. The true patriot is he whose love of mankind is not measured by geographical boundaries, but who, because he desires the welfare of his own countrymen, also desires the welfare of the men of other countries. One of the most hopeful movements of today is the wide-spread study of the new international language called Esperanto. By its means we shall soon be able to exchange ideas with men of other nations, and we shall perhaps be surprised to find how much like ourselves these foreigners are. It is the inability to understand each other that is responsible for much of the mutual suspicion and district that exist between different races, but with the aid of this new auxiliary language the probability of war will be greatly lessened, and international good-will will be enormously strengthened.”
Less than seven years after that was written, Europe was plunged into war. While I’m no great historian of World War I, I’ve done some reading on the consensus of the causes; inability to understand people from other countries never makes the list of causes. I think the long, slow decline of the Ottoman Empire, suddenly snuffed out after a mere six centuries of existence, had more to do with it. That, and the rise of nationalist movements in the Balkans. After all, the whole thing started as a struggle between the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Balkan states.

In that, Weller’s reference to “geographical boundaries” is important. It’s not that the Serbians hated either the Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian Empires; they didn’t want to be absorbed by either. More specifically, the Young Bosnia movement sought the unification of the Austrian territory of Serbian Vojvodina and Serbia itself, and further a creation of an independent country for the southern Slavs (Yugoslavia). Even though the various groups had their own (related) languages, they sought political union.[3] They were fine with a polyglot nation, and certainly concluded that the welfare of their countrymen was better met by being in their own country.

Weller is right: if we sit down to communicate, we quickly find how alike we are. Zamenhof’s idea of a common language, easy to all to learn, is a sound idea. Even with the global domination of English, there are a lot of people who don’t speak it, and I can’t sit down to speak with them if they don’t share another language with me.[4] But will it stop war? No.

  1. His “auto-icon” (that is, his preserved remains) is on display at University College London. UCL also has his mummified head, but that is viewable only after a discussion of “research objectives.”  ↩
  2. “Him” is a safe assumption, though by the time Weller was writing for the Review, Mary Anne Evans had been the assistant editor, a position which apparently entailed doing all of the editorial work.  ↩
  3. Something they reconsidered after the breakup of the Soviet Union; now there are seven countries in the regions. Young Bosnia would be disappointed (despite its name, it seems to have been largely Serbian in membership).  ↩
  4. That would limit conversation to French or Esperanto. My knowledge of German and Italian allow only for fairly rudimentary conversation, even though I was recently complimented on my accent in saying some simple German phrases.  ↩

You can follow my blog on Twitter (@impofthediverse) or on Facebook. If you like this post, share it with your friends. If you have a comment just for me, e-mail me at impofthediverse@gmail.com.
This blog runs solely on ego! Follow this blog! Comment on this post! Let me know that you want to read more of it!

1 comment:

  1. In the United Kingdom Northern Ireland has a common language. English. However during the "troubles" people still killed each other.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...