Race and the War
[The Independent, August 24, 1918]
One of the issues of the war is race prejudice. The Germans have this trait in so marked a degree that it ought to share the growing- unpopularity which now accumulates around things distinctively German, whether good, bad or indifferent. Ever since the Germans took from Frenchmen like Gobineau, Englishmen like Houston Chamberlain, and Slavs like Treitschke, the legend that the world's civilization was the creation of a single race—the Teutonic—they have been unendurable. The bulk of German books on history, politics and sociology for the last few decades have been .devoted to the elaboration of this great Teutonic, myth. Slavs were barbarians, Latin nations were decadent, Celts were futile, the yellow races were "monkeys," black men were not human, Jews were enemies of the state; only the Teuton was tall, blond, handsome, virile, virtuous, reverent, honorable, practical, idealistic, scientific, thrifty, continent, just, brave, self-respecting, and capable of self-government. The fact that many Frenchmen, Russians and Irishmen had all these qualities and that some Germans had none of them (not even the blondness) did not prevent the Pan-Germans from identifying the imaginary "Teuton" with the German nation.
The moral of this pitiful collapse of German humor and common sense before the mirage of Teutonism should keep us from similar follies. Let our enemies have a monopoly of racial egotism. It is true, of course, that the Germans are not hereditarily superior to any of their neighbors, but it is nonsense to talk (as some of us do talk) of the Germans as natural barbarians whose atrocities but echo the deeds of Alaric and Attila, their forefathers. As a matter of actual history and ethnology the people of western Germany are brothers of the people across the North Sea in England and lowland Scotland. They are at least first cousins of the peasants of Normandy and Flanders. The eastern Germans (the "Prussians") are a mixture between the west German type and the Slavic and Baltic peoples of eastern Europe. The south German and Austrian is rather closely related to the north Italian and the man of central France, perhaps even to the Welshman.
But the war raises the question of race prejudice also in a broader form; not merely the claims of the Teutonic super-race but the claims of the "white race" itself to eternal and inevitable superiority. Germany has no doubt on the matter. Inferior as are the non-Teutonic peoples of Europe in German eyes, they take rank above the "native" races of Asian and Africa to such a degree that slavery or the sword is the just wage of the latter. Note the German fury at the Allies for seeking the aid of Japan and for employing African troops on European battlefields. Remember the day when the Kaiser preached against the "yellow peril" in the spirit of yellow journalism. Read any good book or article on Germany's system of rule in her overseas colonies. It is true that private plantation owners in Belgian and Portuguese Africa, and even in a few parts of French Africa, have been excessively cruel to the native laborers in their employ. But nowhere have the officials of a government been so systematically oppressive as in German Africa. The atrocities in the Belgian Congo were the work of a soulless capitalism. The atrocities in German Southwest Africa were the work of bureaucrats Inspired by racial arrogance and measureless contempt of those whom they ruled. If preacher of race hate from the Mississippi valley or the Pacific coast were to migrate to the banks of the Elbe he would not only relieve us of his presence but would find an appreciative audience and a true "spiritual home." Race prejudice is pro-Germanism.
If the hideous example of racial arrogance afforded by Germany does not suffice to cure us of our prejudices there is another fact which should make us reflect. Who are the Allies? At least five nations among them—China, Japan, Siam, Liberia and Haiti—have no white population worth 'mentioning. An absolute majority of the people of the British Empire live in India; "white" men certainly, but also "natives" and non-Europeans. France and its colonies, if taken as a whole, contain nearly as much black as white, and French Indo-China contributes numerous yellow men to swell the total. Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Brazil, Cuba and others of the Allies have many non-white subjects and citizens. The United States, with its ten million negroes and mixed-bloods, its Indian tribes, its Pacific colonies cannot claim to be a racial-unity. If we sum together all the peoples who are fighting against Germany it seems probable that at least three out of four of them are "natives;" that is, people not descended from the races of Europe. Of course, the white race is the most largely represented on the actual battle line, but, since an army is only the delegate of a people, we should learn to think of the war as a league of all the races of mankind against the common foe of all humanity.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013.
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald