Peace At Last
[The Nation; November 16, 1918]
A humiliating armistice signed on the enemy's terms, the Kaiser fallen, the throne lost to the Hohenzollern, Germany crashing to pieces in violent revolution—thus ends the war which has convulsed the world. The mills of the gods have ground exceeding small, albeit at terrible cost, and all too slowly since the pistol shot at Sarajevo which destroyed empires, created new nations and began what may \prove to be the overturning .of our whole social and economic systems. Never could it more truthfully be said of anyone than of the Kaiser to-day that he that taketh the sword shall perish by the sword—and this whether he is to come now to a violent end or to spend the remainder of his days in contemplation of the wreck that is his doing. No more fearful moral guilt ever rested on any one. The man who proclaimed that he was vice-gerent of God, and that he held his authority direct from the Almighty, has learned not only that might does not make right, but that there can be no partnership with the Almighty unless the aim be unselfishly to benefit and uplift mankind. From the moment of the invasion of Belgium, for those who have trust in the eternal verities, who know that the world does move forward, who still have faith in the divine possibilities of mankind, what is happening in Germany is merely what was as certain to take place as the world was bound to turn in its orbit. From that moment the Kaiser was doomed, whether he won on the battlefield or not; the only question was whether he was to fall through the legions of the Allies or through the acts of his own subjects.
And it is primarily through the acts of his subjects that he has fallen. The German Michel, long caricatured as the dullest of peasants, has decided that he has had enough. The infectious example of Russia, close at hand, told. So we see the almost incredible spectacle of the Kaiser unhorsed not by fiat of the Allies, but by the most despised of his political parties, the Socialists, and a regency proclaimed—with what kind of a head? Some prince, some King of Saxony or of Württemberg? Not at all; with Friederich Ebert acting as Chancellor—Ebert who was for years a common harnessmaker, who never had other than a common-school education, who has not even a von to his name! What could be more spectacular, what more dramatic and thrilling, than the Kaiser's abdicating to make way for a man from the ranks of manual labor, a Socialist agitator at that? Nothing could more clearly illumine the horizon of the future, nothing else could possibly be as significant of the overturn to come. There will be those to see in this passing of power from the rich and privileged only evil; who will interpret it as the ending of a golden age and the beginning of the end of civilization. For ourselves it spells a new and most hopeful human era.
For if the mills of the gods have caught and crushed the Hohenzollerns and Hapsburgs and the Kings of Bavaria and Bulgaria and what not, they have still much crushing to do. Every remaining king, whether well-meaning figure-head or despot, should and must go. But these are now few in number. Then, we agree with the German Socialists that no man who had anything to do with starting this war should remain in public life. In Russia, in Austria-Hungary, and in Turkey they are gone. We hope and trust that the spirit of revolution abroad will not die until all the makers of secret treaties are cast out, and with them, as among the worst enemies of mankind, the armament-manufacturers, the Krupps, the Creusots, the Armstrongs, the Whitworths, and our own lesser armor and gun-makers. We desire no end to revolution abroad until customs-houses everywhere have gone by the board. We wish no end to democratic ferment in Europe until the professional diplomat of the past has been ground flat, and with him those alleged statesmen who believe that the backward or sparsely-inhabited spaces of the earth exist only to be exploited. We wish no end to the revolution until there shall no longer be talk of developing hinterländer, spheres of influence, and colonies, but of some means of holding them in trust by joint international agreement for the benefit of those to whom the soil rightfully belongs. Thus we would have England retire from Egypt and Persia, the Italians from Tripoli, and Japan from Kiao-Chou, France from Cochin-China and Madagascar, and Belgium from the. blood-stained Congo, while the United States sets the example by retiring from the Philippines, Haiti, San Domingo, and Nicaragua. We wish no limit to the spread of liberalism until the vicious doctrine that a country shall protect by the force of arms its citizens who invest abroad shall be forever discarded. For we are not of those who can see the mote only in the eye of our Allies or enemies. There are those in plenty—men like Taft and Roosevelt, preachers of reaction and hate—in this country for whom the mills of the gods are turning slowly—slowly, but with the terrifying, inescapable certainty which marks the progress of the glacier that no human agency can stay.
For the Kaiser is but the vilest flower of a system, and it is the system and the spirit which underlie it that must go. The battle against Prussian militarism is not yet won Its first bloody phase is, thank God, at an end. But if this war has proved anything, it is that the spirit of Prussianism exists everywhere, in Paris, in London, in Rome—very strongly—and in Washington. Only in Moscow is it wholly crushed to earth. We shall neither have made this the last of wars nor safeguarded democracy, if we do not extirpate everywhere the spirit that would not only conquer other people's lands as Germany conquered Belgium and Servia, and Italy conquered Tripoli, but would enslave their souls and bodies as well. As long as it is left to a few men anywhere to decide whether nations shall go to war, as long as there are men abroad like Mr. Taft to say that just when we have crushed German militarism we must war against the Russians and Germans to see to it that the revolutions there result in precisely the kind of Governments that we prefer, just so long is the war to end war merely begun.
To-day, however, everybody must rejoice without stint that the last of the German Kaisers has gone. We are witnessing the greatest, the swiftest, the most dramatic tragedy the world has ever beheld. When one thinks of all the great things that Germany has accomplished for the world, its contributions to art, literature, music, and science, when one thinks of what Germany might have done for the world, but for her false leaders, one feels like echoing Capt. Philip at Santiago: "Don't cheer, boys, the poor devils are dying." Under our very eyes is dying the greatest of modern empires, in some respects the greatest nation of our times. May it be the last of the empires! And out of its bitter anguish and travail may there arise in the future, without foreign interference, a new, an honest, and a glorious democratic State to help point the way toward the goal of all mankind, liberty, fraternity, equality!
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald