Why England Falls Down
By Charles Edward Russell
[Pearson's Magazine, August 1915]
[Here you are—you folks who are demanding a great army and navy for the United States. Here's something for you disciples of preparedness. Look at it. Let us build thousands of great ships and make millions of guns and give no heed to that which England has not heeded and we will fall down as hard as England has fallen down in the face of an emergency. Preparedness is all right if it is the "right" kind of preparedness. Those who are yelling the loudest for guns and ships give no thought to the "right" kind of preparedness. In the hearts of most of them preparedness spells profits. It was so with the English, and look what has happened in England-—here is the story—read it. Then turn your thought on our own country and see if we are not headed in the same direction. And—tell the next man who talks preparedness to you about it. Ask him what he is doing to help along the "right kind, the only kind" of preparedness for war. Here's England's story.]
"I don't know when the war will end," said Lord Kitchener on February 14, "but I know when it will begin. It will begin in May."
But it didn't—in the way Lord Kitchener had in mind.
What he meant was that in May the British troops in Flanders would begin a great forward movement that would drive the Germans back toward their own frontier.
This was called The Big Drive. Britain joyously acclaimed it and the rest of the world expected it.
There was no Big Drive.
May came and passed and left the British troops just where they had been in February, except that they had lost some ground north of Ypres.
Suppose we deal frankly with the facts about this matter, however disagreeable they may be.
On June 4 the war had lasted ten months and to all persons abroad that read with their minds as well as their eyes it was clear that Great Britain had fallen down on the job.
In plain terms, she had made a hash of her part of the war.
It is no joy to say this. As much as anybody else, and as ardently, I desire to see the world saved for democracy and rescued from kaiserism, militarism and the Iron Fist. But just causes are not won nor advanced by lying about them, nor by pretending that defeat is victory. We learn from untoward at least as much as from agreeable facts, and in the practical collapse of Great. Britain's military program, observable after ten months of the war, there are lessons for everybody and lessons more momentous than the war itself.
From the start the British press, under the compulsion of the wooden-headed British censor, had been chiefly engaged in misrepresenting to the British people the actual condition of their affairs. We get our war news after it has been carefully trimmed, dressed and seasoned by the official editors of the Censor's office. Consequently the American public, too, has been fed upon such prepared and doctored news dope as has been cooked for home consumption.
There is no profit in that.
The real reason why Great Britain made no Big Drive in May was because she had nothing to make it with. The British Censor Press Agency pretended all kinds of other reasons. They were fakes. This was the real reason.
For nine months Great Britain had been trying by voluntary enlistments to raise an adequate army and had failed; that was all.
So much is the government as well as the censored press conducted upon the fake basis that ninety-nine in every hundred persons believed the recruiting campaign to have been successful and the army gathered to be adequate. Every day the newspapers, or some of them, said so; every day eminent statesmen repeated the assertion in Parliament. No figures were ever given, to be sure, but there was the Right Hon. T. Lumpkins Bonehead and there was the Daily Dream, our leading journal for the household; they said it was so, and what more could you want?
How successful the recruiting had really been and how adequate an army had been raised, you may gather from a few facts.
1. On June 4, exactly ten months after the war began, the French held on the western front a line of battle 543 miles long; what was left of the Belgians held 17 miles; the British held only 31 miles—and thin at that.
2. A coalition cabinet of Conservatives and Liberals had been formed to pave the way to Conscription. The Liberals, for political reasons, did not dare to undertake the job alone, and yet all observing men knew that the effort to raise a volunteer army had failed and conscription was inevitable.
3. On June 3 an urgent appeal for more men was sent to Australia.
4. In ten months of land fighting the British had won nothing; they had nothing to win with. The chuckle-headedness of their own leaders had brought upon them crushing defeats at Mons and Charleroi, and the exceeding thinness of their lines had prevented any evening up of these reverses. They had allowed their enemy to gain Antwerp and the inestimable advantage of a sea end for the German right wing. They had landed men on the Gallipoli peninsula, where, up to that time, they had suffered great losses and won little ground. On their short line in Flanders they had taken some trenches and lost them again.
Otherwise ten months of war costing Great Britain Ten Million Dollars a day were singularly barren of results—on land.
The sea story, of course, was different. But let us strain all we can in behalf of Britannia Rules the Waves and the traditional British bulldog of the seas, and still, if we are in the mood of the historian, we shall be obliged to record that the oceans have been cleared of German fleets more by a preponderance of strength than by the skill, wisdom and energy of a strangely, incompetent naval administration.
Sir John Jellicoe's armada could not prevent the German cruisers from slipping out of the Kiel canal to raid Scarborough, for instance, nor from slipping back again unhurt. The British navy could not prevent the torpedoing of scores of British vessels, mercantile and war, in the very Straits of Dover and the face of the famous White Cliffs. And when you come to that, how many tall ships and brave men lie now at the bottom of the Dardanelles merely because the Navy Department blundered?
All the rest of the world able to read knew well enough that ships have no chance against modern land batteries. The Navy Department didn't seem to have learned even its history.
Day after day throughout this period the censored British press assured its readers that all was going well and the British arms were winning victory after victory, when as a matter of fact up to June 4 the British land forces had suffered a long and dismal series of reverses, and on appraisal seemed but a handful of men.
All this time, according to the press, a tremendous army had been in the process of formation, but nobody could say where that army was.
For the sake of the lesson I desire to give here two examples of the fabrications that have been foisted upon England and the world about these matters—not by the will of the British press but by the dull, bovine, blundering government.
At the outset it determined that the British people should learn about this unpopular war only what it was willing to have them know. So it established the kind of a censorship that could give points to Russia and with it a news agency of lamentably untrustworthy proclivities.
Go back to the first British Expeditionary Force, sent to the Continent about the middle of August. How large was it? I was in Holland at the time and the impression diligently given out from every British source was that there were 170,000 men. In April last the matter happened to be touched upon in a Parliamentary debate and the truth came out. There were Sixty Thousand men.About one-half of whom were rolled up or rolled out at Mons. With this corporal's guard opposed to Germany's millions, "England saved France"—according to the official press agency.
Observe the gifted official faker at his work. He has diligently asserted and caused all America to believe that the gallant British troops turned the tide, won the great, historic Battle of the Marne, snatched Paris from the very grasp of the invader, and drove the German divisions helter-skelter backward.
Fine faking. As a matter of fact the few British then in France had no more to do with the Battle of the Marne than I had, and saved Paris just as much as they saved the stately pleasure dome that Kubla Khan decreed in Xanadu. The Battle of the Marne was fought by the French, was won by the French single handed, was the culmination of the greatest piece of military strategy of modern times; and the British had nothing to do with it.
These two illustrations of the difference between the Censor's Fakes and the Uncensored Facts, lead us back sharply to one question.
How is it, then, about the Recruiting?
Well, how is it? That is the main point. The Censor Press Agent and other mutt administrators continue to declare, as before, that Recruiting has been Satisfactory and a Mighty Host has Been Collected for gallant deeds. But when the demand for troops has become most urgent and the situation is most critical, no troops appear, and as for the gallant deeds, they remain undone, except upon paper.
The British government never deals frankly with the public; there is always a fathom of pretenses hanging out of any statement it makes. Nine months after the war started Sir John French had 300,000 men, and that was all, though he sorely needed 2,000,000. From the censor reports you would have thought that he had them.
Where then was the Mighty Host?
Not on the battle front, certainly. The British line was being driven back for lack of men. Not in the base camp at Etaples, certainly. I have been there. Well, where then? And if they existed outside of the Press Agent's mind, why were they doing nothing?
Some peculiarly optimistic, sanguine, light-hearted Britons asserted that the total enlistments up to June I had been 2,500,000, and the government, rigidly concealing the real figures, smirked and smugly furthered the belief in the suppositional estimate.
But even if we admit that it was correct and there were 2,500,000 British soldiers then under arms, that would only prove that the attempt to form by voluntary enlistment an adequate army was a failure—after ten months of war and ten months of the most amazing and costly recruiting campaign that ever was known. For look at this:
The total population of Great Britain and Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and British South Africa, comprising the greater part of the white British Empire, is 65,000,000 white persons.
From a population of almost exactly the same size Germany put under arms Nine Million, Five Hundred Thousand men.
On the basis of Germany's results, therefore, even if the optimistic, sanguine, light-hearted Briton is right, Great Britain and Ireland were shy 5,000,000 armed men, and the white British Empire was shy 7,000,000.
Great Britain and Ireland had furnished only one-third of their normal contingent.
To get these the government had spent $130,000,000, and had apparently reached the point where all its efforts could produce no more men.
Therefore, the reason why Lord Kitchener's war did not begin when he said it would is clear enough. He didn't have the men to begin it with.
The chief reason he did not have them is because they do not exist—for his purpose.
The reason they do not exist—for his purpose—is because the conditions of life to which the majority of the British working class is condemned will not allow such men to exist.
The slum and the factory and poverty and individualism gone mad swept away Lord Kitchener's army long before he had a chance to see it.
Upon most of the male creatures bred in the English slum the appeal to enlist had been utterly lost. The wheels of the factory and the existing social system had gone over their souls as well as their bodies, and left them but limp rags of humanity.
What to them was the nation's peril, the treaty obligations to Belgium, the balance of power in Europe, the Kaiser's Iron Fist, the liberties of small nations, the threat of Prussian imperialism? Merely to speak to them of such matters would be a grim, sorry jest; were you the boldest of patriots you would still shrink from mentioning such things to them. Look into their faces and listen to their talk. What can they care about all these things? Life to them consists of drudgery and sleep. Patriotism—you might as well talk patriotism to your horse. Treaty obligations! Are treaty obligations anything to eat?
Some of them you cannot even impress with the idea that Germany may land upon their shores. They don't believe it. No German army ever has landed there, and anyway, what has this to do with jobs, wages, food and drink?
But take that part of the submerged, that, not being as yet wholly atrophied, are willing to respond to the call of their country. You will find among them a class so manifestly feeble of frame and inert of will that not even those lax recruiting officers will accept them; and you will find another class that being accepted should have been rejected, for by no possibility can they make soldiers for this, war.
If by any chance you could visit the terrible trenches and then come back and see some of the recruits, all this would be clear to you. No such toil and hardships were ever exacted for so long a time from any soldiers on earth. Only the strongest can endure the strain; men go mad or are physically wrecked under it. Imagine, then, a graduate of a slum alley thrust into one of these hell-holes. Is it not a joke? This creature with the pipe-stem arms, the hollow chest, the pasty face, the blotchy skin, the stigmata of degeneracy or deficiency in his features—what would he do in a trench?
The majority of the men of Great Britain are workers; the great majority of the workers are underfed and always have been; the great majority of the underfed are the children of underfed parents and have been reared in conditions where bodily health is impossible.
It is not their fault. The crushing weight of the system has been forced upon them; and the government in a country wholly given over to every man for himself has never interfered. There are strong, hardy, vigorous, well-developed men in England—thousands of them. They have gone to the front. They can fight as well as the men of any other nation; not a doubt of it. Witness their deeds of marvelous courage on many a field of Flanders. The old spirit of bulldog tenacity is not dead in them: no doubt of that. They can lead and march and endure in perfect accordance with the traditions of their race: no doubt of it. They understand the crisis, they are stirred with patriotism: no question about it.
But these only point and finish the lesson, for these are the sons of prosperity, these are the well-to-do and the well-fed of the nation, the upper classes or the more fortunate workingmen. It is only among the victims, not among the beneficiaries, of your system that the trouble exists.
Look at these two regiments marching down Kingsway. Observe those officers. Fine, tall, stalwart, alert-looking men, clear eyed, well-made. There goes the England of tradition. Look now at the troops that follow. How many of these undersized youths, plainly arrested in their development, leaden of skin and feeble of limb, would you select to defend a difficult trench were you a commander? But there goes the England of the slums as your system has made it.
There will be no big drive with men like these.
Five feet, one inch they have reduced the physical standard to now, and 34 inches around the chest. Stalwart warriors! Even these are but nominal; there are thousands of men in the ranks that do not come up to these measurements, and the recruiters were glad to get them at that.
These are the facts. We can perceive from them that the worst enemies of Great Britain have been within her own borders. They have been her own citizens that have opposed every effort to root out the slum, to reform factory life, to abolish caste, to institute industrial democracy. To-day she has much to say about traitors. Her real traitors have been her honored citizens that have drawn profits from the existing system; her best soldiers have been those that have stood up and denounced that system.
Now she is face to face with the overspiring crisis of all her history, with her very existence in the balance, and there is not one phase of her peril or her troubles that does not come back in one way or another to the Poverty she has tolerated all these years among her masses, this Poverty that now threatens to slay her.
Not one phase of her troubles. Look where you will and see.
The government, for instance, says that its military operations are hampered and all its plans for the war are blocked because it cannot get the shells it needs for its guns.
Right. And why can't it get the shells it needs for its guns?
Because, laying aside now the government's own failure to organize and systematize the work, because the workers do not deliver the goods. The government says so.
Well, why don't the workers deliver the goods?
For two reasons, says the government. The trade unions stand in the way and the men get drunk.
So government forms this coalition cabinet to take the curse off any one political party and formulates strange, autocratic measures to overcome the unions and compel men to work, and is met at once with a grave threat of forcible resistance and the prospects of riots.
But take these two charges brought, by the government.
It was Poverty, always increasing and growing more terrible, and it was your social system, always creating Poverty, that drove the workers into the unions. You would do nothing for them, nor would your government. The union became their one shield and defense. Without it they were helplessly preyed upon and drained dry by the beneficiaries of your system. The union, at least, was one sign of hope; the union had some interest in their welfare. Is it any wonder now that they think of their union before they think of the government that would do nothing for them but deliver them bound into the hands of their enemies?
Every man for himself. The essence of your system has been to force home this doctrine. It has compelled every, worker to fight for his existence and to center his life upon that one struggle. His job, his wages, his scraps of food, his cave for sleep, these under your system have necessarily been the bounds of his thought. Do you think he will depart now from the tuition you have forced upon him merely because the ruling class has plunged the country into a war about which he cares nothing? Not unless you put a rifle at his head and perhaps not then. Your system has done this; your system has created the union with its rigid rules about hours and products, and your system will have to take the consequences.
Or come to the part of the population that the government asserts is gumming the war game because it is drunk and can't work.
The experienced observer knows well enough that these people are the second generation of jam eaters and cave dwellers, and that in the processes of your social system their strength has been undermined and their bones have turned to chalk. Here, then, is one reason why they cannot speed up, drink or no drink.
But the government ignores all this and says the trouble is solely drink.
The witness is neither expert nor convincing; but at least it indicates a condition. The feebly vitalized government reflects a feebly vitalized electorate. If red blood instead of diluted jam flowed in the veins of a certain part of the voting population it would neither choose nor tolerate the Asquiths and McKennas in the guiding of the nation's affairs.
But suppose we admit that the foolish government is for once correct and the drinking habits of the workingmen do prevent them from furnishing the munitions the government needs, why not inquire the reason for these shockingly bibulous habits?
Upper Caste immediately replies that it is the nature of the beast. Low, common persons that work with their hands always drink, you know. This is received as a satisfying solution of the problem, and fathead Caste goes its way content. The working class always drinks, y'know.
Well, if the drink habit has become firmly fixed upon the workers of Great Britain it is because the depleted veins of the workers cry out for stimulant and the dreary lives of the workers demand an anodyne.
To the British slum dweller, joy has come to mean something that dulls his senses to the horrors about him.
Here, let us say, is what they call "the poorer quarters" in an English manufacturing center: Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Southwark, Woolwich, anywhere you please. Contemplate these long rows of dismal barracks, ugly, bleak, forlorn and filthy—street after street of them.
Over there is the horrible factory, equally depressing.
Let us suppose you were condemned to spend your life between these two places, every morning passing from the hideous cave dwelling to the hideous factory, and every night passing from the hideous factory to the hideous cave dwelling.
Suppose the air you breathed in the cave was contaminated with the foul effluvia of overcrowded and unsanitated humanity, and the air you breathed in the factory was poisoned from a thousand lungs.
Suppose these poisons had undermined your health, destroyed your powers of resistance and clogged and stupefied your brain.
Suppose your sunlight, when you got any, fell upon a brick-paved rear court, slopped with stinking old suds, littered with offal, and filled with dirty, squalling children.
Suppose you arose to a breakfast of scanty salt fish and tea and came home to a supper of tea and scanty jam.
Suppose your work in the factory was deadly dull and monotonous; suppose it had in it not a particle of human interest; suppose it wearied your body and deadened your mind; suppose it jangled your nerves all day and the noises of the slum jangled them all night.
Suppose you had been born in such a hell on earth; suppose your father had lived there before you, and your mother; suppose you knew that you could never by any possibility escape from it.
Suppose your ill-nourished body craved all day for something alcohol always seemed to supply, and suppose your hammered and weary mind yearned for forgetfulness.
What would you do?
To-day, in your comfortable surroundings, well-fed and at ease, you may be the fiercest Prohibitionist in all your state; but I will tell you what you would do if you were in the situation I have outlined. You would go out and get soused and, in the like conditions, so should I.
That is exactly what the slum dwellers do.
In some cases their wages have been much increased by the war. The only pleasure they have known in their lives, the only good and the only relief, is drink. When they get more money their natural impulse is to get more drink.
Whereupon the work slackens, the supply of munitions is short, there are no shells, the army commanders fume and grumble, the French and Belgians must do all the fighting, and the government throws the blame upon the workingmen. See how unreasonable they are. We have increased their wages and they go and get drunk.
So to remedy this alarming condition the Gracious King cuts out the booze. The dull government will not inquire into the real cause of the trouble, but anyway, it knows the remedy. Induce the King to banish wine from his table.
If all this together, the failure of recruiting, the wondrous apathy and inertia of the people, the drink trouble, the dull government and its dull expedients, do not indicate an appalling state of national decline, what is their significance?
The slum has done its perfect work. Take careful note of the results.
I think we do not see how sharp this question is unless we take a look at things in another country likewise beset with war but presenting a different front to its problems. Let us say, France, for example. None of these troubles seem to afflict France. Taken almost as ill-prepared as England, she has so far made a much better showing in efficiency, power and results.
But we are to remember, first of all, that the strength of France lies in her peasantry, that is to say, in outdoor men and in men physically sound and economically free. The Code Napoleon made France agricultural and made her farmers independent proprietors; and to a considerable extent government has kept greedy fingers from their throats. These sturdy, sun-burned, well-fed men that you see toiling in the French trenches are largely the products of French farms.
Yet a century and a half ago, and the typical Frenchman was scrawny and half-fed, while the typical Englishman was broad-beamed and red-blooded. Strange that in 150 years the relative conditions of the two countries have been exactly reversed! Today on the battle line it is the typical Englishman that is spare and the typical Frenchman that is well-fed and stout-limbed.
What has done all this?
One hundred and fifty years ago Great Britain was an agricultural country; her strength lay in outdoor men that breathed pure air and knew sun and wind and had a sufficiency of hearty food.
Today she is a manufacturing country; for her defenders and soldiers she must turn to the dwellers in factory town slums, where for nearly three generations all men have been poisoned.
One hundred and fifty years, ago the bulk of the French people were the slaves of the land, which was owned by the nobility and the great estates. They had neither political nor industrial freedom. The Revolution and Napoleon changed all that and transformed a race of starvelings into the men that with inferior numbers won the Battle of the Marne, and routed the most famous soldiery in the world.
France has no great trouble about getting shells. In the crisis that has confronted and unified the people all private interests are subordinated to public necessity and the government has commandeered every factory that can produce munitions. Hundreds of men too old for military service have set up lathes in their homes and are making shells. There is no trouble about the drink evil; the people are drinking less than ever, not more. There is no trouble about political factions; all parties melted into one when the national peril came. There is no trouble about workingmen's hours or wages; all citizens are prepared to make for the life of the country what sacrifices may be necessary.
For these better conditions various reasons exist. One is the deeper resentment of the people against a wanton, savage and unprovoked assault; another the universal understanding that the existence of France is at stake; and another the fact that, France being invaded, the people were brought close to the bare actualities of war.
But beyond all these are the power of superior democracy, political and industrial, and the power of higher ideals.
In France, as in every other country under the existing system of society, the working class suffers a terrible injustice and is deprived of the due fruit of its labor. Yet its condition, for the reasons I have mentioned, is distinctly better than the condition of the producers of England. This is true as to the living standards of even factory workers; and far more markedly true in the living standards of the farmers, the bulk of France's strength. For the mass of the peasantry is physically sound, economically free, and mentally independent.
When we come to political and social democracy the difference is impressive. Caste, which is iron bound and universal in England, hardly exists in France. To a great extent the people feel that the nation belongs to them and to a great extent they are right.
The Republic has done these things. Glory be to the Republic, now and ever more! Amen.
But to return for a moment to English conditions, I have told you facts about the drink problem, but not all of them. There are matters upon which I prefer to touch gingerly. Drinking habits among women, for instance, because when you come to such subjects persons unfamiliar with customs and conditions among the British lower castes would not credit what every observer knows to be true. Thousands of women are now receiving from the government what are called "separation allowances," which means weekly payments to the dependants of men that have enlisted. Very often these amount to more than the good man's wages. The women get every week more money than they have ever grasped before. Life to them has meant nothing but abject and grinding poverty. From the gloom in which they dwell the only escape they have known was in drink. To them also more money means merely more drink.
Consequently the increase of drunkenness among women has become an added horror of this war, and now comes near to a national scandal.
In some places the well-to-do have been frightened into forming organizations to deal with this evil. I know one such place where the organization has reported conditions almost as much a reversion to the jungle as the war itself. Children neglected and unfed while their mothers lay drunk on the floor, clutching the last shilling of a "separation allowance," is one of the least revolting of these discoveries.
In one city, and that very considerable, the allowances were at first paid at the central post office. The place came to be so filled with drunken women that for shame's sake the business must be moved to a spot less conspicuous. I am not to be understood that such things exist everywhere. Perhaps they are not even common. But they certainly exist in some places and ought to furnish prohibitionists with a terrible argument.
The slum and its product. No army in the field could ever be a foe so deadly.
This is not all. While the government and the loyal newspapers plead, argue, placard, beseech, lecture and cry out concerning the nation's peril and the need for enlistments, the enlistment offices are deserted, the streets are filled with young men of the military age, and for the generality of people London never was so gay.
All the theaters are open and well attended; money never was so plentiful, and never was spent so freely. The "separation allowances" and the increase in wages have turned loose a flood of it; business is exceedingly good. Many a housewife that never before had more than $2.50 in a week to spend is now receiving from the government $5 or $6, while her husband's support is provided. Many a workingman that never received more than $6 a week is now getting $10 or $12.
To them this seems the only important thing; the war is a myth. Why not? The system under which they were born and reared and have struggled for crusts has incessantly driven into their minds the one iron fact that wages, food and drink constitute life, and its interests. Do you blame them? They have lived in the midst of an arena where men tore one another for bread, jobs and bones. In that horror pit only gross material considerations have been of importance. Now they get more money and they spend it, no one can deny, grossly, according to their tuition.
Meantime, the life of the nation is in peril, and London, rolling easy money about, does not care.
Only the aristocracy, the well-to-do, the old families, and the land owners seem to care. To them the crisis is of terrific import. There are 176 Members of the House of Lords now serving at the front in the battle line. That is more than one-fourth of the total membership, an astonishing fact when we come to consider the number of very old men among the peers. A recent London newspaper contained a casualty list four columns long. I ran down the names and was amazed to note how many came from well-known or prominent families. The great houses of England are in mourning, the blinds closely drawn, the rooms darkened and the women in black. Outside the merry crowd streams to the races. It is a strange contrast.
The races in the early part of the year and the football games were as well attended as ever. The newspapers bulletin sporting news alternately with war horrors. Ghastly, is it not?
Every afternoon there is a drilling of volunteers in the grounds of Gray's Inn. Outside, with faces thrust between the iron railing, stand more young men of the military age than the volunteers number. They stare at the drilling and at all the other signs of the preparations to meet the darkening peril, and then they move off unconcerned.
Meanwhile the British battle front is 31 miles long, and the world wonders whether France, strained to the utmost, can continue to bear the load of the rest.
So here, my masters, is your system, put at last to the test, and will you see what it looks like now? It had been carried in England to its greatest perfection. Every man for himself was the good old rule and simple plan. Grab and hold fast. If there are any poor in our happy land it is their own fault. Why don't they get rich? Anyway, it is no concern of ours nor of the government's. The opportunity is here.
That was the controlling principle upon which Great Britain operated in previous years and upon which we are operating now. I go back to the days when men like Charles Booth and H. N. Hyndman stood in London and pointed sternly to the inevitable results of this system. They said then that it was impoverishing the masses and enriching the few, that the slum was eating out the nation's heart, that from the slum could issue only weakness, disease and national disaster. You would not listen to them then, my masters. What do you say now?
Men of this type continually pointed out that poverty and the slum had everywhere the same results; that poverty was the deadliest national foe, that some day it would be loosed upon and destroy the nation that, tolerated it.
They said that a nation's strength was the strength of its workers and producers; that heaps of riches, however high, in the hands of a few are no source of strength but only of weakness. They said that poverty brought along with it every other social ill; that crime was bred in it and drunkenness and insanity; that vast populations allowed to live in unwholesome conditions, to breed weaklings and to spread disease, meant eventual ruin.
They said that the government of a nation is an expression of all its mentalities; that the slum paralyzed half of the minds that dwelt in it and stupefied the rest; that from such a vast mass of mental inertia below would come incompetence and stupidity above.
They said that some day an emergency would arise in which all these truths would be smeared in red letters before the eyes of the rulers. What do you think now?
These men were reviled and abused for saying these things. They were called anarchists and demagogues, disturbers of peaceful society, muckrakers and liars and all that. Time has abundantly verified everything they said.
Great Britain, which loosed Organized Greed to prey upon Unorganized Need, has with prodigious effort in ten months raised one-third of an army, one-third of which is physically unfit to fight.
Germany, which viewed the welfare of the worker as the first concern of the State, which with public enterprises curbed Private Greed, put into the field in one day 9,000,000 men fit as a fiddle.
Momentous instruction. We ought to be the first upon the learners' bench and carefully noting it, for we most have need thereof.
Go into the back streets of Paterson, Lawrence, Lowell, Pittsburg, Fall River, and a hundred other places; or take a turn through the huts of the Upper Peninsula and Pennsylvania.
In the hour of our national need what kind of defenders will issue from such places?
The strength of a nation lies in the well-being of its workers and producers. We can be wise and learn that now or we can be chumps and have it pounded into us too late to avert some national disaster.
Which will you have, my masters?
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald