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The Day in History


Today is the anniversary of the 1928 signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact,

which outlawed war. The Pact, produced by American Secretary of State Frank
B. Kellogg and French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand was eventually
ratified by sixty-two nations, almost every sovereign in the world at the
time. It passed the U.S. Senate with only a single negative vote. The Pact
had, arguably, one success, in defusing a 1929 Soviet-Chinese dispute over a
railroad in Manchuria. The other effect of the Pact was to encourage
countries engaged in international aggression not to issue a formal
declaration of war. Thus, there was no declaration of war for Japan’s 1931
invasion of Manchuria, Italy’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, and Germany’s 1938
threatened invasion of Austria (which eventually took place peacefully,
thanks to the cowardice of the Austrian government and the democracies).
Kellogg was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize (Briand had already won one),
putting him and Briand in the ranks of Prize winners such as Yasser Arafat,
Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Rigoberta Menchu, Le Duc Tho (North Vietnamese
foreign minister), and others whose public careers ended up helping to cause
war and violence.

The Pact helped produce World War II, by making it appear that it was
immoral or illegal to take decisive military action against Hitler when he
was still weak, in the mid-1930s. All 15 of the original signatory nations
ended up fighting in World War II. Notably, the Pact was produced under the
administration of Calvin Coolidge, which shows that even conservatives can
delude themselves with Wilsonian illusions about the power of international
agreements. Technically, the Pact is still in force, a permanent reminder of
folly of all who believe that pieces of paper, rather than powerful armies,
will deter the aggression of dictatorships.