Why Americans Are Pro-Ally

By Booth Tarkington
(Popular American Novelist)

[The New York Times/Current History, June 1916]

[At the request of an English friend Mr. Tarkington recently wrote this pithy analysis of
American war sentiment for the information of the British public.]

All normal and educated Americans have been from the beginning, and now are, "pro-ally." There are no exceptions. A few "prominent citizens" not a dozen, all told have been entertained and personally enlightened by the Kaiser, or by his close adherents, and are "pro-Germans;" but that sort of enlightenment is, of course, destructive to education, and these troubled gentlemen have had no visible influence, though one hears that two or three of them have been able to convert their wives to the German view. There are also, here and there, a few "pro-German" oddities, quirk-brained persons and tender-hearted souls, who are "for Germany" because everybody else is cursing Germany. They are of no consequence and may fairly be classed as not normal.

It should be understood, of course, that the educated "German- American" is not an educated American. The "German-Americans" are becoming consistent lately: they advocate the hyphen for all persons dwelling within the United States; they would not forbid even Colonel Roosevelt to be known as a Dutch-English-German-American, though the Colonel himself appears to be sluggish in claiming his rights in the matter. We may dismiss the "German- Americans" from this consideration, not without compassion: they are human and they are sweating blood.

Officials are all neutral. They are neutral because the United States is officially neutral. Politicians, for the greater part, affect to be neutral. That is because they are politicians and wish to offend nobody. The end will be, of course, that as feeling grows higher they will offend everybody. Neutrality always offends everybody. Almost all of the newspapers are "pro-ally," though numbers of them pose as neutral. But you may accept it as the fact that all officials and politicians and editors who are educated Americans are actually "pro-ally." The "great mass of the proletariat" are vaguely "pro-ally," but more definitely, as about everything, pro-nothing. They do not know that the war affects them, and they do not think about it.

The American is "pro-ally," but not because he is characteristically of English descent. Characteristically he doesn't know his descent. He sometimes guesses at it, idly, concluding, if his name be Baker, or Knight, or Thompson, that his ancestors may have been English he doesn't care. Nor does he regard England as the "Mother Country;" nor is that saying much in his mind: "Blood is thicker than water." He is not "pro-ally" out of sympathy. Who thinks he is fails to understand the American. The American is pro-Belgian out of sympathy; and he is anti-Teuton, in the Belgian matter, out of indignation; but he is "pro-ally" because history is "pro-ally."

We were the onlookers from the beginning, and we saw that Germans made the war. We saw that the German Nation went into the war with a patriotic stupidity, magnificent and horrible; that the German Nation was wholly in the grip of a herd instinct which had been used by manipulators; and that these manipulators, having made the Germans into a loyal, warlike tribe, brought on the war in the approved manner employed by all war chiefs desiring a war. Their unblemished hypocrisy was of an old, old model always employed by war chiefs—and absolutely obvious to any mind not under the sway of herd instinct. The Germans saw what had happened here. They understood that an impartial national mind had judged them; so they naturally organized a stupendous campaign attacking our judgment. For their purpose, their propaganda accomplished precisely nothing.

* * * Now, this is the American mind; this is how the American thinks of the war: "The German Nation has been revealed as a warlike tribe, wonderful in that capacity, but not to be thought civilized merely because it uses typewriters. Its will is the will of its chieftains and its credulity is theirs to use as they choose. The chieftains, for their own greater power and greater glory, as they, in their barbaric way, conceive glory, and for the expansion and increased riches of the tribe under their control, made this war. They forced it at a chosen time—as they forced the last three wars which they have made. They then began operations with a crime which would dishonor a civilized nation but which a barbaric tribe would consider creditable. Their descendants, who will probably become civilized in the course of time, will be dishonored by this crime, but the barbarians who committed it will naturally never comprehend the shame of it.

"England came into the war for good reasons, whether those reasons were to protect herself, or because the violation of Belgium demanded it. The latter motive is the finer, but the former is sufficient. Probably both motives operated together, strengthened by a promise to aid France—a good promise. My birds-eye view is of an England fighting to make a predatory tribe learn to keep the peace. And England must win. I am not worried about the freedom of the seas under England: I am worried about freedom anywhere under Germany. There were some sufferers down South wailing about their cotton, and there are others out in pocket and complaining of the high hand of England; and our Government, being neutral, must send bothersome notes to England the Government is literally bound to do so. These are 'technicalities;' I wish they could be abolished. I do not want England bothered. We have a real note pending with Germany; the Lusitania case is just what it was last May, and we have waited so long that other nations have forgotten that we are only waiting, or they think that our waiting means a pitiable acquiescence. Not yet!

"And about our getting rich through the sale of munitions to the Allies, I am sorry if that sale is what causes our prosperity. It is a horrible way to make money. It is absolutely necessary that we furnish munitions to the Allies, and we shall not tolerate interference with our manufacture and shipping of these munitions, but I wish there were no profit-taking. However, under any circumstances, the Allies must be supplied with munitions—for they must win!"

That is the American thought.

Working against the American is something fermented of sloppy materials and waste, stirred and brewed into a gas by the ebullience of these times. The fermentation takes place, where history informs us that many of our fermentations of ignorance, for the last sixty years, have taken place, within the Democratic Party; its opponent, the Republican Party, specializing, at times, in the fermentations of corruption, until it is forced out of power and into reformation. Mr. Bryan, late Secretary of State, is the witch of the Democratic caldron, and, to drop the figure, he is trying to prevent the President's renomination. Mr. Bryan has often used "mob ignorance" to effect his purposes; but it is generally believed that he is quite sincere, and that upon the frequent occasions when he makes use of mob or Congressional ignorance he is honorably and consistently ignorant himself. He is a man of unsullied conscience; he has never in his life done a thing which he believed to be wrong; and his career reveals a long series of coincidences, in each of which his sincere view of the True and the Right and the Elevating was precisely that which seemed most likely to elevate Mr. Bryan. However, nobody believes him to be a hypocrite; it is felt, merely, that he is incapable of analyzing his own real motives.

He still has power within the Democratic Party, and he has used it to embarrass the President in the latter's dealings with the German Government. Mr. Bryan can now count upon the German-Americans and the pacifists, and also upon a number of personal henchmen. He hopes for a vast addition, contributed by public ignorance, to these forces; he hopes that there will develop a great body of voters to whom international law and all foreign relations mean nothing; who are unaware that they dwell upon a round world; who are indifferent to the outcome of the war—in brief, who have never beheld the sea and would riot to keep from having to fight for some incomprehensible nonsense about submarine boats. So far, however, this body of reserves for Mr. Bryan and his rather nauseating Congressmen—and the German-Americans and pacifists—has not developed. In our belief it will not be at all formidable.

Except for an army or navy man, here and there, it is the fact that in August, 1914, almost all Americans thought that there would be no more great wars. Now we think of little except preparation for our own defense. Defense against whom? Who was it that so utterly changed our minds? Not England. Not France. Not Russia. There is not a sane American who thinks of England or France or Russia or Italy when he thinks of "preparedness." And "preparedness" is in either the foreground or the background of every American mind continually. Shall we fight without "preparedness"? We still hope for honorable peace, whether we are prepared or not prepared for war, but the American answer to the question just asked is, "Yes, if we have to!" "England, whom we fought twice when we were unprepared, need not doubt it.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald

The Headlong Fury