The War from an American Point of View
By George B. McClellan
(Former Mayor of New York City; Professor of Economic History in Princeton University)
[Scribner's Magazine, March 1915]
Ever since the beginning of the war the English and Germans have been unceasing in their efforts to influence American public opinion. Friendly newspapers have been supplied with carefully edited news, books favorable to one or other of the belligerents have been put upon the market, while distinguished men have flooded the press with their arguments and travelled the country in speechmaking and lecture tours. Because of her command of the seas, which permitted her early in the war to cut the only cable under German control, Great Britain has possessed a great advantage over her chief opponent in being able to censor and color in her own interest all the cable news and much of the mail matter that we have received. On the other hand, Germany has conducted an extremely able campaign, in view of her handicap of having no cable and using a language other than ours.
Unfortunately, many of us have been so influenced by the extremely clever German and English efforts to capture our sympathies that we have lost our sense of proportion and assumed an attitude of open belligerency on one side or the other entirely inconsistent with our national position as neutrals in the war. Let us show our heartfelt compassion to the unhappy Belges and aid them to the limit of our means, let us give our sympathy and our admiration to either side we please, to the French and to the British for their dashing valor and for the magnificent stand they have made, or to the Germans for their marvellous efficiency and courage, but in doing so let us never forget that as neutrals we owe our first duty to our own country.
In these days of intense war partisanship it is not only morally and spiritually wholesome, but it is also patriotic, if we occasionally forget that we are either German or French sympathizers, Russian or Austrian advocates, or even that we were once British colonials, as some of us have never ceased to be, and only remember that we are Americans. If we were to keep that fact constantly in mind we should not only help in some small degree in upholding our President in his very difficult and exceedingly patriotic task of maintaining neutrality, but as Americans we should see clearly enough through the smoke of battle to learn a much-needed lesson for our future national guidance. There are some generous souls who insist that neutrality is cowardice, that there is a higher duty than that which we owe to country, and that is the duty we owe to civilization. They would, therefore, have us throw national interests to the winds and embark upon a war in behalf of what they consider the cause of civilization; that is, they would have us join in the fighting on the side which they favor, regardless of the fact that we can better serve civilization by best serving our own country. Moreover, we are rapidly placing the United States beyond the possibility of being of any use to Europe at the close of the war.
It is becoming more probable every day that there will be no overwhelming victory on either side, and it is possible that before long the belligerents will be glad to accept the good offices of a neutral power in bringing about peace. But as mediator no power will be acceptable that has not been really neutral. Neither side will consent to the arbitration of a government whose people have been violently partisan during the war. Unmeasured and unreasoning abuse accomplishes nothing but injury to the cause it is intended to help.
There has recently been much insistence that it is our duty as one of the signers of the thirteen conventions and one declaration adopted at the Second Hague Conference, in 1907, to protest against any violation of their terms by any of the belligerents. As a matter of fact, none of these conventions or the declaration "apply excepting between contracting powers and then only if all the belligerents are parties" (British Foreign Office, Misc. No. 6, 1908). The conventions involved were not ratified by all the belligerents in the present war, and are therefore neither morally nor legally binding upon any of those who did ratify. If we are to interfere in the affairs of Europe we must find some other reason than what occurred at the last Hague Conference, for The Hague conventions and declaration of 1907 fall of their own weight, and, if they mean anything at all, mean that they have no present application.
Those who, in the interests of what they call the higher duty, are seeking to embroil the United States in the European war, in their zeal for the ambitions of countries not their own, lose sight of the fact that they are imperilling the interests and the happiness of a hundred millions of Americans. What these ambitions are is, of course, open to an honest difference of opinion. All the belligerents claim to have been forced into the war and to be fighting in the cause of righteousness against a false and perjured foe. The question of who first attacked whom, of whose troops first crossed whose frontier, is not of so much importance to us neutrals as are the fundamental causes which brought about the war. If we can arrive at even an approximation of what those causes were we may be able to determine on which side, if either, our true interests lie.
To assume that the present war is the work of any one man or any group of men is to permit prejudice to warp judgment and to allow sympathy to befog a clear understanding of the facts. The real cause of the war must be sought more deeply than in the ambitions of any individual or of any single caste. The spark that set all Europe ablaze may have been lighted by individual action, but the train was laid and the conflagration set long before either Wilhelm II of Hohenzollern, or Franz Ferdinand of Este, or Sir Edward Grey of England had become figures of international importance.
Ever since the wars of the French Revolution the history of the white man's world has been molded by one all-inspiring, ever and everywhere dominant force, the spirit of nationality. The rise of that spirit as a world-compelling power is not only one of the most extraordinary features of modern development, but is the most interesting and characteristic phenomenon of the period in which we live. Whether we sympathize with it or not, whether we believe that it has been and is a force for good or evil, we must concede that the spirit of nationality has been the inspiration of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, It has been the dominant note, the leit motif running through all the comings and goings, the doings and strivings, political and economic, of all the peoples of the Western world for more than a hundred years. In these days of materialism and disbelief it has been for thousands the only ideal that they knew. Many a man who has denied his God has given his life and his all for his flag.
According to the doctrine of nationality, political conditions are intolerable unless states and nationalities are conterminous, and ordinarily it insists that races should be governed as distinct units by themselves.
By it and because of it, during the last hundred years, Europe has been entirely transformed. It brought into being the German Empire, modern Italy, Greece, and Hungary. It awoke the Panslavic sentiment, created the Balkan states, and drove the Turk almost out of Europe.
Long before the French Revolution conditions were ripe for the creation of the nation, and Europe was ready for. The touch of the enchanter's wand. The ragged army with which Dumouriez won Jemappes called into being the modern spirit of nationality. Frenchmen suddenly awoke to the realization that there was a France which was not an appanage of the crown, which was not the property of the Bourbon lilies, but which was the birthright of her sons, the heritage and possession of all Frenchmen, to be fought for, to be died for, and to be lived for.
The men of the Revolution believed it to be their mission to force their doctrines and ideas upon Europe, just as, later, Napoleon believed it to be his mission to force his rule upon the world. And the countries of Europe, realizing that if they were to live free from France they must fight each for itself, as an independent unit, sprang to the fray inspired by the new spirit of nationality evoked by French world ambition. The moment that it was conceded that the people might rule themselves in their own way the spirit of nationality became more self-assertive. Masses of men having the same interests, the same hopes, the same ideals, naturally tended to separate from those who differed from them, while groups of men with like interests strove to join themselves together.
This new spirit of nationality has been criticised as being egotistic, as being the utmost limit of calculating, cold-blooded selfishness.
Unfortunately, human nature has always been more or less selfish. Yet as time has passed and as humanity has moved forward and upward in its evolution the selfishness of the individual has tended more and more to be absorbed in the selfishness of the group. The impelling motive of humanity during its evolution from the village to the nation has been group or class selfishness, constantly growing broader as the unit of organization has increased in size.
Every nation on earth has been striving for years, in its own way, to realize to the full its national aspirations by uniting within itself all the component parts of its nationality and by making of itself a self-contained whole, just as in the ages past the territorial states, the cities, and the villages, excluding the stranger without their boundaries, strove to make themselves independent of their neighbors.
The necessary corollary of this aspiration has been the policy of territorial expansion followed during the last thirty or forty years by all the Western nations, as well as by Japan, at the expense of the dark-skinned races. The nations have tried to satisfy their need for land with an utter disregard of the feelings and rights of their victims, while often seeking to gloss their acts with an equal disregard of ingenuousness.
Most have claimed that they were conferring a great benefit upon their new subjects, by introducing them to the blessings of a civilization dignified by such grandiose names as Kultur, Japanese progress, and the English mind, as in the case of Persia, whose independence was snuffed out by Great Britain and Russia; Egypt, pocketed by Great Britain alone; Bosnia and Herzegovina, taken by Austria-Hungary; and the Congo Free State, stolen by Belgium and subjected by that country to horrors of cruelty and misgovernment. When the civilization of the conquered is very similar to that of the conqueror, as in the cases of the South African republics, Korea, and Finland, appropriated, respectively, by Great Britain, Japan, and Russia, the resort has usually been had to the excuse that the government of the conquered is corrupt and needs reform.
Germany's violation of the neutrality of Belgium and Japan's violation of the neutrality of China in the present war, like Great Britain's violation of the neutrality of the Portuguese colony of Lourenço Marques during the Boer War, all absolutely unjustified, were all excused and explained by pettifogging quibbles tending to lend a respectable hue to piracy and to make Captain Kidd seem honest. This spirit of hypocrisy has been largely confined to the Teutonic nations, the Latins having been much more open in frankly acknowledging that they have been influenced by no altruistic motives in striving for their territorial conquests. After reading, ad nauseam, of the German desire to spread German Kultur and of the whole-hearted and unselfish efforts of the British to disseminate the English mind, it is refreshing to find that France has acquired her enormous colonial empire with neither apology nor excuse and that Italy has appropriated Tripoli and Cyrenaica simply because she coveted them.
Nevertheless, the underlying cause of the European land lust has not been altogether ignoble. In their struggle for national self-sufficiency—in other words, in their efforts to completely realize their national ideals—the nations have felt the imperative need of national territorial expansion so as to provide for surplus population and surplus products. The boundaries of Europe being rigid, the expansion has had to take place across the seas, and it has been for a place in the sun, or rather for many places in the sun, that each nation recently has been striving.
Modern economic, industrial, and scientific progress has been so extraordinary that population and production have increased beyond all expectation, making the problem of caring for surplus products and surplus people a very vital one. The greatest colonial empire of them all, that of Great Britain, won by devotion and self-sacrifice as well as by craft and blood and iron, has been to her of absolute necessity under the doctrine of nationality. For at home she is wofully deficient both in supplies for her people and her industries and in demand for her people and her products.
France, still chiefly an agricultural country with a falling birth-rate and a very slowly growing population from immigration, has nevertheless felt the need of new markets for her surplus products, and so in her case also, from the nationalistic point of view, a colonial empire has been an absolute necessity.
It has been said that while France has colonies she has no colonists; that Great Britain has both colonies and colonists, but that Germany, while having colonists, has no colonies.
Germany came late to the game of land-grabbing, only to find most of the desirable white men's colonies already absorbed. Her population and her industrial production were increasing constantly and enormously, so that it became evident, long before the close of the last century, that if Germany was to retain the allegiance of her surplus population and market her surplus products under the German flag—in other words, if she was to realize her ambition of national self-sufficiency—she must bestir herself in the acquisition of colonial possessions. Germany has stolen less land than other nations because she did not feel the need until too late. If she had had the opportunity, it is probable that as a land thief her record would have been as sinister as that of Great Britain, and it is even possible that her colonial misgovernment might have been as wicked as that of Belgium in the Congo.
Until some three months ago many of us were under the impression that national boundaries were, in great measure, only geographical expressions and that the dawn of a universal brotherhood of man was not far distant. Those of us who held this comfortable belief predicated it upon the universality of commerce and banking and credit, on the vast system of commercial treaties that covered the world, and on the apparently excellent understanding existing among all the states of the earth.
The events of last August rudely dispelled the dream, and people awoke to the fact that nations had been dealing with each other, not because they wanted to, but because they had to; that the apparent internationalism of the last quarter of a century was due to the force of economic necessity and not to the call of human brotherhood; and that the all-powerful spirit of nationality tends to national selfishness and exclusiveness.
In the same way the recent political alliances of Europe came into being for the purpose of individual aggrandizement and national development and not because the high contracting powers had any particular love for each other or altruistic interest in each other's welfare.
The so-called Three Emperors' League ceased to exist in 1879, as soon as Russia learned that Germany and Austria had formed an offensive and defensive alliance chiefly aimed against her. Under Bismarck Germany's commercial ambitions were directed down the Danube toward Asia Minor. Austria-Hungary was essential to his policy, and Austria-Hungary became and has since remained the devoted and humble friend of Germany, once more, economically at least, the east mark (der Österreich) of the empire. In 1882 the Triple Alliance was completed by the adhesion of Italy, driven into the arms of Germany by her quarrel with France, due to the latter's annexation of Tunis, upon which Italy had cast longing eyes. Since then, upon its expiration, the Triple Alliance has been constantly renewed. Under its terms the three contracting powers agree to defend each other in case of attack. It may be said, in passing, that Italy's neutrality in the present war is based upon the theory that both Germany and Austria were the aggressors.
In 1895 Russia and France, who for some years had been gravitating to one another, came together in the so-called Dual Alliance, like the Triple Alliance, organized for mutual defense. In 1904 England and France reached a diplomatic understanding, as did England and Russia in 1907. The Dual Alliance thus became what is called the Triple Entente (or Triple Understanding), like the Triple Alliance, a mutually defensive undertaking. Japan subsequently adhered to the Entente by entering into defensive treaties, limited to the East, with Great Britain and France and forming a close alliance, with Russia.
It is as absurd to say that the seven great powers grouped themselves because of international likings or racial sympathies as it is to assume that either of the great alliances was brought into existence as a purely protective and peaceful force.
A Barnum's happy family containing in one alliance perfidious Albion, the land of the Corsican, "the Bear that looks like a man," and that Bear's tamer is no more unnatural or preposterous than one including Italy and her hereditary enemy, Austria, and the latter's conqueror, Germany.
The powers grouped themselves, not as they might have liked, but as best they could, in the interests of their aspirations for complete nationality. Each had some definite end in view, the accomplishment of which in the comparatively near future was deemed by it of vital importance in the cause it had most at heart. Each knew that, in reaching this end, war with its chief industrial and commercial and political rivals was an almost absolute certainty, that victory was almost a condition precedent to complete national success. Therefore, for the past quarter of a century each has been playing for its own hand, feverishly preparing for the war which all Europe has believed to be inevitable.
Great Britain long ago realized that her world supremacy was seriously threatened by the marvellous industrial progress of Germany. Accordingly, her century-old policy of maintaining the largest navy afloat was accentuated, and she enunciated the principle, to which she has for some years adhered, of having a fleet larger than that of any two other nations. Her jealousy and hatred of Germany, as expressed on the platform and in the press, have been so evident that it has been perfectly obvious for whose benefit the fleet was being supported. The old hatred and fear of Russia were forgotten in the new and stronger hatred and fear of Germany.
France has never concealed her ambition to recover Alsace and Lorraine. "La Revanche" has been the watchword that has guided and governed her statecraft ever since the last war. Added to this has been the further inducement to war of the evident desire of Germany to interfere with French ambitions in Africa. French military writers have never concealed their hope that the moment France was ready war would be declared against Germany, the casus belli having been given as long ago as 1871 in the annexation of the two Reichslander.
Russia, having put herself at the head of the Panslavic movement, has insisted that the accomplishment of Russian nationality was dependent upon the realization of the Panslavic dream. This in its turn required the destruction of the thoroughly artificial Austro-Hungarian Empire and the release from bondage of the Slavic peoples subject to the house of Hapsburg.
Besides, for nearly a century Russia has never ceased to strive for the possession of a door to the open sea, an ice-free harbor on the Pacific and an entrance to the Mediterranean; Dalny in the one case, Constantinople in the other.
Japan for a generation has been ready and anxious to fight all comers as a means of establishing herself as a first-class power in the family of nations; like an ambitious young prize-fighter, she is seeking to acquire "a reputation."
Of the members of the Triple Alliance, Germany has been preparing for war for the purpose of winning her place in the sun, colonies as an outlet for German men and products. She has reciprocated Great Britain's hatred and for years looked forward to the day of British humiliation. Italy has been doing all in her power to complete her national aspirations by spreading her people and her language around the Mediterranean; while Austria-Hungary has been getting ready for the absorption of more Slav peoples in the effort to preserve her dual nationality by the increase of her subject states.
All the great nations in their strivings for the realization of their hopes extended themselves to the utmost in the race for military power. The charge of militarism lies with equal force against all, if militarism means the crushing weight of enormous armament, for their expenditures in time of peace upon their armies and navies have been about the same. In 1911 the military and naval expenditures, were as .follows: France, $262,150,000; Germany, $315,000,000; Russia, $321,500,000; and Great Britain, $363,250,000. On a per-capita basis the expenditures were: Russia, $2.25; Germany, $4.80; France, $6.75; and Great Britain, $8.00.
The armed peace became too crushing to be borne longer. The enormous naval expenditures of Great Britain and the army budgets of the other powers at last reached a point beyond human endurance. So much was this the case that the French Government was only able to pass its recent three-year law by agreeing to pay most of the increased cost by means of a loan and by promising that the increase would be only temporary. All the nations were rapidly reaching a point of colossal military expenditure so great as to have only two alternatives before them, disarmament or war. National hatreds and jealousies and ambitions were too deep-rooted and intense to permit of a serious consideration of the former alternative. It then became merely a question of which power would be ready to strike first.
We all know that because of greater foresight and superior organization the initiative was taken by the Triple Alliance, and, no matter what special pleaders or apologists may say, the fact remains that the peoples of Europe took up arms as nations inspired by the consciousness of the honesty of their intentions and the justice of their cause. Whatever blame or praise may be deserved in this war must be shared by all the peoples involved, for this is a peoples' war, a national war, in the broadest sense popular. However much we may deplore its existence and its horrors, however fervently we may, and rightly, pray for peace, however sincerely we may believe that last August it might have been avoided, let us in common fairness concede that sooner or later it was bound to come and that it is being fought not to gratify individual ambitions, but as a consequence of the dominance of the spirit of nationality which rules the century in which we live. Rival national ambitions were too antagonistic to permit the states to live longer at peace, and the nations of the world who had prided themselves on their Christian civilization, forgetting what they had learned during a thousand years of evolution and progress, submitted the righteousness of their aspirations to the mediaeval court of justice, the red arbitrament of the sword.
Apart from our sympathies for and against the various belligerents, we Americans as Americans are vitally interested in the war because of the direct effect its outcome may have upon the welfare of our country and the happiness of our people. It is our duty to remember that in this far from perfect and very human world conditions must be faced as they are and not as we should like to have them. We must not delude ourselves into the belief that under any circumstances the end of the war will inaugurate an era of universal human brotherhood and peace. The bitterness of defeat, the sting of disappointed ambition, the arrogance of victory, and the blood-lust of conquest will require generations for cure. It may be that mankind will emerge from the conflict chastened and humbled, yet, on the other hand, centuries may pass before the dreadful passions this war has aroused are bid to rest.
Whatever of change the far-distant future may hold, there is absolutely no reason to suppose that the end of the war will find the spirit of nationality any less dominant or aggressive than it has been for a quarter of a century. On the contrary, as this war is the direct and logical outcome of the world rule of the national spirit, so, no matter who may win, the result of the war must be the triumph of nationality.
The nations fought as a step in the realization of their national ambitions. When the war is over, the victors, no matter who they may be, with far greater boldness and with far less concealment than ever before, will continue their progress toward the accomplishment of national self-sufficiency and national world power.
With the hopes, and aspirations of France, Austria-Hungary, and the Balkan States we have no concern, but the ultimate ambitions of two great powers clash directly and of two others indirectly with American interests. While Russia seeks territorial aggrandizement in Europe and Asia, and while the United Kingdom is willing to remain as she is as long as her world supremacy in industry and commerce is not menaced, both Germany and Japan believe that in their national growth they must expand beyond the seas, and it is their desire for expansion that is our greatest national danger. Should Germany triumph, her national aspirations will scarcely be satisfied with the acquisition of French North Africa or even British South Africa. Both territories are peopled with unfriendly races and would require generations for Germanization.
To the south of us, however, the case is entirely different. German interests in Latin America are so great, the number of Germans living in the southern republics and the amount of German commerce with them are so large, that it is scarcely possible that a victorious Germany will, or from the nationalistic point of view ought, to refrain from establishing coaling stations, spheres of influence, and colonies in different parts of South America. This she will accomplish peaceably if she can, forcibly if she must. For the assurance recently given by Count von Bernstorff that she would not attack Canada only referred to the present war and in no way suggested an acceptance of the Monroe Doctrine. The national theory has always insisted that it is national loss for emigrants to live beyond, the jurisdiction of the flag. If Germany succeeds in covering into the empire her sons who have emigrated, she will be doing no more than every other nation has tried to do.
On the other hand, should the Allies win we shall be confronted by a problem quite as serious as that presented by a German triumph,
Japan contains a population of nearly 70,009,000, with a density of more than 300 per square mile. Economically, she needs colonies for her national development; politically, her aspirations are boundless. Not satisfied with the acquisition of Formosa from China, and of Korea nine years ago, she has recently seized the Marshall and other South Sea islands from Germany and, violating Chinese neutrality, has conquered the German colony of Kiau Chow. She has said that she would give the Marshall Islands to Australia, but has not done so, and does not conceal her intention of retaining Kiau Chow. The spirit of her nationality is so ambitious and so aggressive that it looks forward to the certainty of dominating the Pacific and the possibility of ruling the world. On the mainland of China and Korea, whatever may be the chances of political control, the door is closed to immigration, because population is even denser than in Japan, while the might of Great Britain precludes the possibility of Japanese settlement in Australia or New Zealand. But across the Pacific the way lies open and in Mexico the colonies are waiting to be seized. Hawaii is a convenient half-way house, and is already to all intents a Japanese colony, for, out of a total population of 192,000, 84,207 are Japanese subjects (Japs, 79,674; Koreans, 4,533) and less than 15,000 are pure whites.
Those who concede the existence of German ambitions in South America laugh at the suggestion of Japanese designs against Mexico. Yet they cannot deny the Japanese desire for territorial expansion or that the hatred of the Japanese for us is almost as great as is that of our Pacific coast people for them. If heretofore the Japanese have made no move against Mexico it has been because they have feared the outcome, but, should the Allies win, the strength of Japan will be enormously increased.
But no matter who may win it is almost certain that at some hot far-distant date we shall be confronted with the alternative of either abandoning the Monroe Doctrine or of fighting to maintain it. We have made of it a great national principle, a question of national honor, so that if we abandon it we must concede that we are not strong enough to retain it, that we are only a second-class power at the mercy of all the swaggering bullies of the earth. If we fight for it, in our present condition of unpreparedness, there can be but one outcome. A triumphant and victorious Germany would have little to fear from us, and, while we might possibly in the end be able to check Japan by herself, for her financial resources are limited, we could scarcely hope to do so if she receives help.
Unquestionably, the Russian-Japanese affiance is extremely close, and nothing would better please Russia than our humiliation, for she hates us quite as much as does Japan. She has never forgotten that in 1905 President Roosevelt's interference deprived her of almost certain victory over her enemy, for Japan was nearly bankrupt; nor has she forgiven President Taft's unnecessarily brutal abrogation of our commercial treaty in 1911. Japan, with Russia standing behind her, England neutral and even possibly fighting with her, and Germany crushed, would be a problem past our solution.
There are those who assume that Great Britain would fight with us in any great war in which we might be engaged. But why should she? She has never shown any particular fondness for us, one of her two greatest industrial rivals, unless she could use us to her advantage. Neither her conduct during our Civil War, nor in the Venezuela matter, nor her recent seizure of neutral cargo bound for neutral ports in American ships, shows any particular regard for us or our rights. Besides, there is a treaty between Great Britain and Japan. It ought not to be difficult for Japan to manoeuvre us into an aggressive position at the outbreak of any future war, in which case Great Britain must go to her defense unless the Anglo-Japanese treaty is "only a scrap of paper." Japanese help to Great Britain in the present war has been of very great importance. It is quite certain that Japan will expect payment for her services cent for cent.
If we do not wish, sooner or later, to reckon with the alternative of either living shamefully or dying gloriously, we must be prepared to defend ourselves and fight for our national honor single-handed, for we can expect no assistance from any other nation on earth. We must realize that whatever nations may say in their hours of stress, in their hearts none of them like us. All fear us and are jealous of us, for they know that we are the nation of the future. There will be no general disarmament after this war, for, while financial necessity may cause a great reduction in the size of armaments, the armies and navies that survive will be more than sufficient to account for ours, as at present constituted.
For the sincere and honest non-resister we should have nothing but respect. We may not approve of his doctrines, but we can at least admire the consistency of the man who, believing war to be the greatest of evils, advocates peace at any price. But most of our people are in no sense non-resisters and have the most profound belief in the greatness and the might of our country. Yet, while they urge the expansion of American industry and commerce and in its support advocate a spirited foreign policy, they are unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices to insure our country's future. They believe that because we have never been obliged to fight a serious foreign war there is a special Providence watching over us to protect us from our mistakes. Trusting to this special Providence, we have negotiated a series of treaties with foreign powers in which it is agreed that, in case of any dispute arising between the contracting parties, neither shall resort to arms until after the expiration of a year. A sort of political moratorium is provided which under the millennium might be very effective but which under existing conditions is hardly practical.
"He must needs go that the devil drives." When the inducement to break a treaty is sufficiently strong, none is worth more than waste paper unless there is power behind the treaty to enforce its terms. Depending upon treaties for our national development and growth is like trying to climb to heaven by means of a rope of sand. The truth of the matter is, that in some respects as a nation we have deluded ourselves into a sense of false national security, and we imagine that because our progress has been phenomenal in the past nothing will ever check it. Our wealth and our luxury have become so great that we are unwilling to make any sacrifice even for our own salvation, and we violently oppose any one who criticises our enjoyment. We treat the voice crying in the wilderness as a public nuisance, and, because it disturbs us, either ridicule or abuse any one who points out our national dangers. Most of the fear of so-called militarism in this country is a fear of its possible cost and not of its consequences. Yet many men who will earnestly oppose the appropriations for two battleships will cheerfully vote double the sum for unnecessary river-and-harbor work for the benefit of some of their favorite constituents.
Europe has shown that no state is immune from war. As long as we profess the Monroe Doctrine, sooner or later the United States will be obliged to defend it by force of arms. We can only survive if we are prepared, and to be prepared we must be willing to pay the cost. An adequate navy and a sufficient and an efficient army cannot be had without the expenditure of time, men, and money. Although in 1911 our military budget was the fourth largest on earth in time of peace, amounting to $266,500,000, a per capita of $2.66, we have only 7 dreadnoughts against Great Britain's 18, and 25 submarines against Great Britain's 72. General Wood has told us that we have 43,000 regulars available, less than an army corps, and that, while in time of war 300,000 men will be required to defend and support our coast-defenses, we have 17,000 for the purpose. For each torpedo-tube afloat it has been charged that we have just one torpedo, and they take time to make; we have no spare guns, nor rifles, nor ammunition, and, worst of all, we have no trained reserve of men. Modern wars come with dreadful swiftness, and yet to put this country in a condition of even partial preparedness will require years of time, millions of money, and thousands of men. If we decline the alternative of living shamefully or dying gloriously, and prefer to live with honor, we must be willing to face the necessity of sacrificing some of our wealth, much of our ease, and all of our self-satisfaction.
As the much-abused Treitschke has said: "Weakness is nothing intrinsically ludicrous, but the weakness that tries to pose as power is indeed so."
Without being a militarist, one cannot help feeling that the national character would be strengthened if we should bring ourselves to face the future. We should be a better people morally and spiritually if we would think less of making money and spending it for pleasures not always intellectual or wise and more of defending the honor of our country against future perils. Only too many who denounce the ideals of militarism have no ideals whatever of their own. The men of the Civil War who fought on both sides for what they thought was right, and the women who stayed at home and suffered, were a nobler generation than is ours, for they gave all they had for an ideal, while we are unwilling to sacrifice even present comforts for the happiness of future generations.
It is the duty of every American to take thought for the national safety while forethought is still possible. It is our duty to fortify our coasts, to organize the nucleus of what may be expanded in time of war into a great army of defense, to build ships strong enough and numerous enough to meet our national needs, and to do all this in no spirit of aggression, with no intention of forcing ourselves where we do not belong, but with the purpose of meeting the future calmly and bravely. Firmly resisting the efforts of both sides in this war to entangle and embroil us, preserving a strict neutrality between the combatants both now and hereafter, we should prepare to defend ourselves so that if attack ever comes we may be able to resist successfully.
The American people have never failed to rise to all the emergencies with which they have been confronted, because it has always been humanly possible for them to do so. Yet by our refusal to make adequate preparation for defense we are making it impossible for our countrymen to rise to the emergency of a war with a powerful opponent.
In the next few years the American people will determine the future of their country. They must decide whether she is to continue to drift unarmed upon the seas of chance, her safety menaced and her progress checked, the sport and perhaps the victim of any pirate nation that chooses to attack her, or whether, forewarned and forearmed, able to command respect and to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, she shall continue toward the fulfilment of her ultimate destiny, constantly nearing the goal of her ambitions as the greatest, the most mighty, and the most righteous nation the world has ever known.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald