The fundamental idea underlying the Henry Ford Peace Expedition is that an unofficial manifestation of a heart-felt desire on the part of the peoples in the neutral countries that the terrible slaughter on the battlefields of Europe should at last come to an end.
Henry Ford, who, despite his millions, is a man of such simplicity and humility, that it is the surprise and delight of all who come in contact with him, kept saying again and again, previous to his lamentable breakdown in health, that in this war as in all wars, the innocent people are being murdered – they who have absolutely nothing to do with bringing about the war, and who even today do not know why they are being led like cattle to the slaughter-house.
Now for months efforts had been under way in America, as well as in other countries, to call into being a conference of the neutral powers, which would by joint effort seek to bring about peace. It was clear to all of us who are identified with this movement, that in a world catastrophe like the present, no single movement, be it ever so important, could bring about an early peace by single-handed effort. For this reason we have been working ever since the outbreak of the war toward cooperative or joint mediation on the part of the European neutrals and the United States. When, however, we became aware – then above all others our most honored and leader, Henry Ford, became aware – that the governments are so tied hand and foot by diplomatic and other traditions that quick and decisive action could not be expected of them for some time, then Henry Ford became the champion of the idea that the time had arrived when the peoples of the neutral countries could no lon[ger] wait for their governments but must themselves enunciate the cry for peace. He, however, realizing the absolute necessity of breaking through tradition by means of some unconventional action – and of turning the eyes of the world toward the thought of peace by some unusual method – conceived the inspired idea of the peace ship and of an international peace pilgrimage.
Our plan in brief is as follows: In each of the neutral countries visited by us – Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Holland – we shall invite about ten citizens to join our expedition. At The Hague we hope also to meet ten Swiss and Spanish representatives, inasmuch as it is impossible for our expedition, because of geographical difficulties and the problems of transportation, to go in person to Switzerland and Spain. The Norwegian delegation will join us within a very brief time, and has in fact already arrived in part. The Swedish delegation is under consideration by the Committee.
Proceeding from country to country, we shall everywhere make propaganda for the idea of calling an official neutral conference. If, however, we find upon reaching The Hague, the final destination of this larger and popular pilgrimage, that the governments have not acted, we, the participants in the expedition, will ourselves set up an unofficial neutral conference to be composed of some three or five delegated from each of the neutral countries.
This conference will naturally begin its operations by intensive study of the tremendous problems involved in the struggle of this world war. In this connection I should like to point out that in the course of our present pilgrimage we are in no wise concerning ourselves with the actual questions of the present war. That is the work to be undertaken by the neutral conference which is to be set up and left behind us. Most of us, in fact, are far too inexperienced and uninformed regarding the problems of Europe to be able to sit in judgement at this time. Our present object is merely that of giving concrete expression to the desire for peace on the part of the neutral peoples.
After due study of the situation, the neutral conference will begin at once with the draft of a tentative program for peace – both for the settlement of this war and the prevention of future wars – and, having agreed upon this draft, will submit it simultaneously to the warring powers. This peace program will in no wise be determined by the temporary military advantages that one or the other of the powers may possess and will have as a basis singly and solely those principles of humanity and justice upon which alone a lasting peace can be based.
In case the first program of settlement drafted and agreed upon by such a conference should be unacceptable to the warring powers, then the conference seek to modify the prostitutions contained therein until finally the negotiations have proceeded to the point at which the warring factions declare themselves ready to enter into direct peace negotiations with each other.
The work of the conference is to be facilitated by calling to its assistance experts on international problems from the various warring countries. These experts are in no wise to be members of the conference, but merely advisors, who, upon request of the conference, can shed light upon the problems of their own about a far more just solution of the European tangle than a peace dictated by military victory. We are also convinced that the psychological moment has come for international disarmament and that this disarmament can be initiated through the instrumentality of such a conference. But over and above all we are moved to action by the thought that the neutrals owe it to themselves and to humanity no longer to stand by coldly while Europe is going down in destruction, but rather to raise their voices in unison with the Christmas greeting, “Peace on earth, good will to men.”
New York Public Library. Rosika Schwimmer Papers, Box 485.5. Series IV. Ford Peace Expedition – Expedition plan outline and preparatory notes, 1915 November-December