Winning the War

By Edward Earle Purinton
(Director of The Independent Efficiency Service)

[The Independent, February 16, 1918]

The war has entered a new stage—the most critical stage for us. The final issue, becoming more and more sharp and clear, narrows down to this: Can the American soldier outfight the German soldier? If he can, victory is certain. If he cannot, defeat is certain.

We have been told by enthusiasts of one kind or another that food will win the war, that money will do it, that machinery will do it, that fuel, or clothing, or ammunition, or materials or supplies, will do it. The war can not be won by any or all of these things. The war can be lost by the lack of them; it can never be won by the presence, even the abundance, of them.

It is not the weapon in his hand or the food in his stomach that makes a warrior a conqueror. It is the feeling in his heart, the purpose in his mind, the power in his soul. We talk about the efficiency of the German army, we watch their movements, measure their guns, count their submarines—and imagine we have their secret. The Kaiser, meanwhile, laughs in our face. The Kaiser is like a wizard who produces marvelous effects by pouring together a few chemicals in full view of the audience—but keeps the magic formula hidden away under lock and key. Observing the phenomena, we try to learn the formula by peering at the chemical compound, weighing or measuring it, then proudly stating we know just how it was put together and rashly, supposing we can repeat the performance ourselves.

What made the German army? Psychology. What keeps it fighting, to the last drop of blood in the last man? Psychology. What fills the mind, cheers the heart, sustains the spirit, of the German people thru long years of famine, death and despair? Psychology. What has enabled one man to bend a whole, nation to his will, and to plunge a whole world inter the most cruel, most gigantic, war ever known? Psychology. We do not yet begin to realize and utilize the mental forces behind the German army. Of all the subtle deceits of the German ruler, none is more effective than this: that while appearing to rely most on machinery, he does rely most on psychology.

In facing the German army, the worst handicap on our boys is the fact that they are mentally unprepared and uncontrolled. They have been snatched away from all their mental moorings, and are emotionally at sea. They look to us for a sustaining and empowering thought force equal to that exerted by the Kaiser on, for and thru his army. By "thought force" I do not mean the metaphysical, so-called thought-waves of absent treatment, but would emphasize the need of steady concentration and personal application of our minds on the work of helping our soldiers win. A high German officer said confidentially to a close friend: "Of all things in the world, the Kaiser most fears thought." "Why? Because the Kaiser knows that when the people of any big nation put their mind collectively and individually on the work of beating out the Huns—that is the end of the Kaiser. The minds of the German people are all bent on backing up their soldiers, in a systematic, scientific, businesslike way. The clear thinkers among our men at the front realize the situation. One of them writes home: "The boys in the trenches can win only 40 per cent of the war. The remaining 60 per cent is up to the folks at home." Another writes: "Perhaps the most false and dangerous error in the United States regarding the war is the idea that victory must be, can be, gained by our soldiers alone. We are doing our best—I haven't seen a streak of yellow in a single man here. But the outcome of the war will be determined by your thoughts, gifts, prayers and efforts."

Ludendorff says that modern war is a war of peoples, not of armies. Ludendorff handles the human side of the German army. He believes that we lack both the wisdom and the will to stand behind our soldiers. He knows that every German soldier is backed to the limit by his country, his community, his family and friends. Why should not Ludendorff, Hindenburg and Wilhelm scorn us and feel secure? They expect to win, because, in Germany, the individual soldier has the individual support of the individual citizen. We should like to give our boys real support, but we don't know how. We have been so loose-brained that a prominent New York German lately wrote thus in a German newspaper:

"The Germanization of America is now assured. The American people will be conquered by the victorious German spirit, so that in a hundred, years it will present an enormous German empire. Whoever does not believe this lacks confidence in the strength of the German spirit."

A ridiculous prophecy? No. There are millions of American citizens today, chiefly mothers, sisters, wives and sweethearts, who are helping to Germanize this country as effectively as tho they harbored German spies and set off German tombs. How? By weeping, rebelling, pining, whining or complaining when their boy sets out as a knight of old, to slay the Prussian dragon. Millions of Americans who imagine themselves loyal are guilty of mental desertion and emotional treason. They have sent their boy to the front with a heavy heart, a sad memory, a mind full of worry, and the poison of dejection thinning and cooling his blood. Then they write him, weak, whimpering letters, perhaps not knowing that when a soldier gets a down-hearted letter from home, his fighting power drops 30 to 60 per cent, according to the temperament of the soldier and the contents of the letter. What difference does it make whether an American soldier is wounded by a German missile or by an American missive? He is wounded just the same, isn't he?

It is probable that every grown American has at least one or more relatives or acquaintances among the five million or more youths likely to compose our army over seas. How we view the departure of these friends, and what we do for them while they are away, will exert a tremendous force in hastening victory—or defeat. We must build in a few months, a national wall of mental support as firm and high as the people of Germany have built for the soldiers of Germany. Our meatless and wheatless days, our subscriptions to the Red Cross and Y. M. C. A., our home economies and other forms of self-denial, good and necessary as these acts of service may be, are likely to prove unavailing till we add the personal touch of thoughtfulness, confidence, remembrance and cooperation that our fighters must have to make them winners.

To become a real mental and moral support to our boys, we have got to change our thought and feeling about the world conflict as relating to us. In war as in business the same truth holds; we do best what we want to do most. For half a lifetime Germany has wanted most to fight, therefore she fights best. There is grandeur in self-surrender, that we have yet to learn from the humblest peasant of the Teuton empire. When we mourn or rebel at the sight of our boys marching away, we are letting a personal feeling blind us in the presence of a national trial of strength and call of duty.

Sorrow is either selfishness or blindness. Whatever looks like a misfortune is but the shadow of a blessing we have not seen. By lifting ourselves to a moral and spiritual plane from which clear vision may be had, we can see from the sunward side the glory of the blessing and not the shadow, even while the shadow is passing.

The war is a shadow, whose glory is redemption. England, France, Italy, even Russia, has been awakened, purged, renewed, redeemed, by the Great War to a fuller extent than would have been possible thru a hundred years of the deadly monotony and superficiality of civilization. War, in the nations on the side of right, substitutes a quick and mighty revolution for a slow and feeble evolution. Wonderful changes for the better have already taken place in the social, economic, hygienic, political, industrial, educational and religious affairs of the nations composing our Allies.

That boy of ours at the front goes forth to take a man's part in the crowning spiritual adventure of the ages. Are we selfish enough to want to rob him of his chance to be a hero in the sight of God and Eternity? Are we blind enough and mean enough to cripple him as he goes, with the moral paralysis of our sodden personal grief?

I have talked with soldiers from the training camps, have read books by soldiers who fought in France, and have read and compared scores of personal letters from soldiers both in training and on the firing line. I have yet to discover one American soldier who really wishes he had not gone to war. After a year in France, a boy whose family resides near us wrote home a few weeks ago. He said: "I have had a wonderful time, would not have missed it for anything. Am learning a lot more than I could have learned if I had stayed at home. Don't worry about me, for Uncle Sam sure knows how to take, care of his boys." Listen to another: "I have learned more, and developed more, in the past five months of military training than during the preceding five years of ordinary life, whether in school or in business." Another voices the feeling of the ambitious among our boys: "I didn't know what life was for until they made a soldier out of me. When I get home I shall do bigger things, in a better way, than would have been possible without this experience." Do such men want our pity? They want our pride, they will justify it, they have already earned it.

The majority of the first two million men serving as American soldiers in the Great War enlisted voluntarily. Why? The boys of Camp McClellan, down in Alabama, were asked why they enlisted. We partially quote their composite answer. "To learn self-control. To guarantee the safety of my mother and sisters. To kill a few Germans for what they did to Poland. To help free the German people from Kaiserism. To show that my blood is red and my back isn't yellow. Because the country needs me. Because God called me. I never did anything worth while, so I dedicated my life to my country in order that it might be of use to some one." If we think we have a good reason for wanting to keep our boy out of the fight, perhaps a wise plan would be to write the reason down, then compare it with reasons for enlistment that were written down by the soldiers themselves. We ought to be as brave in letting them go as they are in going. If we aren't, we ought to be still.

I have seen photographs of a group of American boys before they enlisted—and after they had been thru five months of camp drill, work and study. You would hardly know them for the same persons. Before they enlisted, they were dull, slow, idle, trivial, slouchy, dependent, unreliable, extravagant, thoughtless, careless, purposeless. Today their photographs mark them the opposite of the undesirable things they were, and as fine a body of young men as you would see in a year's travel.

In our minds the horrors, miseries and fatalities of this war have been greatly overemphasized. Thinking and talking about them does no good except as we are moved because of them to righteous anger and ruthless determination. Have we ever stopped to consider the benefits and opportunities of war training to the American soldier? Let us name a few advantages compiled from the late official records of camp and trench life.

Advantage of better health. It may be news to you that the American soldier is healthier and stronger than the American civilian. Except for wounds or accidents, a man is safer in the American army than he is at home. In the best army camps the percentage of sickness is below 2 per cent, according to reports from the Surgeon General's office at Washington. If serious illness, such as pneumonia, does occur, the mortality rate in the army camp is below 7 per cent, as compared with almost 20 per cent for civilians of equal age. The amount of sickness has been reduced for drafted men to, one-fourth the normal average for civilians.

Food is bought pure and kept pure. The daily ration presents a balanced dietary equaled by few American households, restaurants, or hotels. Tableware and drinking water are screened from flies and dust. Every drop of drinking water used in camp undergoes medical examination. Dishes are cleaned with fresh towels, and hot water. Flies are killed. Garbage is quickly burned or removed. All the precautions of modern hygiene are utilized.

Further, the men are taught to take care of themselves, physically and mentally. They are examined every two weeks, for present or latent symptoms of disease. Their slight indispositions are fully reported and carefully treated. They soon grow physically hard as nails, and mentally keen as briars.

Advantage of firmer discipline. The average American youth is not naturally a worker. He has grown weak with prosperity and soft with luxury. He wastes time and money prodigiously. He lacks reverence for age and respect for authority. He lacks the virtue and virility of a Spartan, or even of a first-class Indian. How military life straightens him up, broadens him out, forces him on, makes a man of him! A prominent educator, watching a body of troops after three months of camp experience, urges upon American college authorities the necessity of adopting some of the features of the training camp in the regular college course. He believes that college professors should go to school to army men! The professors might thus learn themselves, and teach their students, the businesslike bearing, earnest expression, keen eye, erect posture, immaculate appearance, fine cooperation, speedy and effective action of our soldier boys.

Advantage of closer economy. A large percentage of the drafted men were in position of a good income, the sacrifice of which now prevents the waste that usually goes with a "good" American income. For example, 60 per cent of a whole regiment of engineers received an average income of $5000 or more, which they gladly surrendered.

The soldier boys from poor families are gaining also a financial lesson highly valuable. They are learning to work hard, on small pay, with great opportunities for promotion, and greater opportunities for service. Most of them have bought Liberty Bonds, or otherwise given their funds as well as themselves. And they are not allowed to waste a bit of food, clothing, materials or supplies. They are being taught the daily practise of personal thrift.

Advantage of deeper fellowship. The war is teaching the soldiers in France to be citizens of the world. Their sensibilities and emotions are being educated in a wonderful way. Broad vision, fine feeling, ready sympathy, are prime qualities in leadership that our boys will have gained on return. They are brothers now to the little hungry French children, with whom they share smiles of understanding, morsels of food, and little delicacies from home. They are brothers to high-born American ladies helping to supply the boys with home comforts near the battlefield. And they are brothers to the stalwart men of England, Scotland, France, Italy, Australia, Canada, India, from each of whom a wealth of experience is bound to be gained for the enrichment and enlargement of the American soldier's life. Knocking out the Kaiser means knocking out narrowness, pettiness, provincialism from our own makeup.

Advantage of higher courage. Every young man should be given deeds of daring to accomplish. The total absence of the need or exercize of bravery is a misfortune as serious to young men as the lack of bread. We have lost the elemental. We have grown tame. We have trudged too long, in the dust of the commonplace, our heads bowed, our eyes blurred, our hands holden, our hearts deprest.

Advantage of greater religion—-greater in extent and in character. This is the first time that religion has improved war—-and war improved religion. Tens of thousands of American soldiers who never before cared much for spiritual things now do their fighting with a Bible in their pocket, and go to the Y. M. C. A. army hut as faithfully as they go to meals. The Y. M. C. A. war work aims to furnish everything a soldier needs while off duty—from baseballs, French dictionaries, talking machines, writing materials, boxing gloves, newspapers and amateur theatricals to song services, "adopted" mothers, moral supervisors, prayer meetings, religious books and other helps of all kinds. The Y. M. C. A. hut is the nearest like home to our boys of anything in France. A new sort of man's religion has thus been created—-vital, practical, intimate, strong, sane. Large numbers of men who resisted all evangelistic efforts at home have been converted on the battlefield. They went to fight—and they found God. The war secretaries of the Y. M. C. A. are not professional Y. M. C. A. men—most of them are merchants, bankers, lawyers, manufacturers, college professors. They, too, are gaining a new conception, and working out a new application, of religion.

Advantage of stronger purpose. Whatever makes, a man resolve to do or die is good. And if it makes him hold to his resolve, it is superlatively good. The faces of our men at the front are set with a high and holy purpose that none of them ever knew before. All their human powers have been harnessed to a divine determination. The fires of youth have been kindled—the follies of youth are burning away. The outcome will be physical, mental, moral regeneration.

Can we not remember these advantages to our soldier boys in their supreme adventure, can we not bid them good-bye and Godspeed with our minds calm and our hearts hopeful?

It is estimated that by giving our solders all the support of which we are capable, we can shorten the war six months and save to the world billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. How can we hold up our end?

For the answer to this question, I have consulted military experts, social workers, practical psychologists, Government officials and soldiers themselves from the camps and trenches. Having compared these answers, I have condensed them below. Each of the following things we are willing and able to do means firing a bullet in the face of the German army. Take a pencil as you read, cheek the items you are best able to handle, go over them a second time, write them down at proper intervals on your memorandum pad for the current year. If the items are for general observance, without regard to special date, you might well copy them on a large sheet of paper, then hang it on the wall of your study or parlor, as a reminder for the whole family.

1. Make a list of a half-dozen soldiers now in training, or at the front, whom you know best, and to whom you are bound most closely by family, community or business relationship. Then form a group of the friends of these boys, let the group study this article, follow the suggestions below, see that every soldier on this list comes under the systematic remembrance of one or more people in your group of moral supporters. If any of the soldiers on your list belong to a special organization, the members of that organization would naturally be the first to rally round him. The mere display of a service flag in a window of a home, school, church, club, lodge, or business organization shows a kindly sentiment, but avails nothing for the man who has gone. Every service flag should mean a systematic remembrance and support of the man for whom we raise the flag.

2. Smile when your boy goes, and smile in your letters to him. Don't let him hear one sob, feel one misgiving, see one tear. Hide your heartache, if you can't overcome it. Don't whine how you miss him—-tell him how glad and proud you are to have him go, make him feel you expect him to be a great soldier, make his courage double-strength by adding yours. And look forward hopefully to seeing him return a healthier, stronger man, bigger and finer in, every way.

3. Write a home letter to the boy of your affection, or be sure that some one else does, every week, or oftener. When a soldier has a fit of the blues and works and fights poorly on account of it, the reason generally is that no word from home has reached him for several days. There is but one cure for homesickness—that is a home letter. Make your letters cheerful, newsy, chatty, brightened with glimpses of home strength and courage, lightened with humorous happenings that may have occurred. A soldier at the front says: '"We shall need inspiration constantly; there should be as many home letters as possible, and they should be long and detailed, filled with cheerfulness; I believe this war may be won largely by successful letter-writing on the part of our friends at home."

This matter is so important that community organizations have been formed to keep the soldiers of the community supplied with home letters. For example, the people of Kingsville, Texas, have set up a large blackboard and a commodious writing desk in a public place; on the blackboard appear the names and addresses of the soldier boys from Kingsville, and bits of news about each; every day these news items are changed on the blackboard, to keep the citizens watching the board; scrap-books with letters the boys have written home are on the desk; supplies of stationery, pens and ink are also on the desk, so that anybody who feels moved to write one of the absent soldiers may sit right down there and do it. The plan has proved highly successful. Your community might be able to adopt it, or to work out a better one.

4. Limit your correspondence to the boys you know personally. The censorship rules forbid the men of the Expeditionary Force to correspond with strangers, and the practise of writing strangers merely chokes the congested mail service, results in delay and confusion. American soldiers do not want to be "adopted" by American godparents, whether ladies or gentlemen.

5. Send your boy one or more home newspapers regularly. Subscribe for them in his name, have them go direct from the newspaper office, each day; or mail a bundle of them yourself once or twice a week. Make sure the address is officially correct.

6. Work out a plan whereby the soldier gets a small gift once or twice a month. The cost doesn't matter—the affectionate remembrance does. Here is a list of the things the boys like best to receive: handkerchiefs, heavy gloves, good wool socks of medium weight and light color, towels and wash cloths, underwear, shaving and other toilet articles, comfort bags containing needles, pins of all kinds, thread, scissors, etc., boxes of home candy or tins of chocolate, packages of chewing gum, writing materials of different sorts, thin, small pillows with washable cases, photographs of home folks and home doings, clippings, both national and local, on the favorable progress of the war, books and magazines. Be sure that all gifts are most strongly wrapt, and fully and accurately addrest.

7. Do some good fighting yourself—fight the German propaganda here at home. We have been told by General Pershing that Americans at home will fight Germany best by refusing to listen to the propaganda which accompanies or precedes German offenses. German liars in almost every community of the United States are at work.

Some of the lies they have spread broadcast are as follows: That Y. M. C. A. war work is a failure; that the Red Cross is full of graft; that the army training camps are hotbeds of immorality; that our boys will be likely to freeze and starve because of poor clothing and bad food; that the next Liberty Loan will be an excessive burden, with a sum too large demanded but a rate of interest too low returned; that a famine of salt, bluing and other household supplies is rapidly approaching, and a big stock of everything in sight should be bought and hoarded by the housekeeper; that the aviation corps and other branches of the service are full, no more men need apply; that the Government is trying to starve us in requesting us to sign food cards.

8. Look for the best and be ready for the worst. God has a way of turning the worst things into the best, so to call anything worst may be as impious as it surely is premature. The American soldier has ninety-four chances in a hundred to come back alive.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —


A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald

The Headlong Fury