The common effort, the universal grief, has drawn all French people so close together that social and party differences have disappeared. The French priest has become once more the heroic leader of his people, fighting by their side in the trenches. The scholars, the poets, the artists have all done their part,—the nuns, the aristocrats, the working-people theirs. While England has been harassed with strikes and class recriminations, France has never known in her entire history such absolute social harmony and unity, such universal and concentrated will.
This spirit of "sacred union" embraces the women who are doing men's tasks, the rich who are surrendering their good American securities to the Government in exchange for national defense bonds, the poor who are bringing their little hordes of gold to the Bank of France to swell the gold reserve. I wish that every American might stand in the court of the Bank of France and watch that file of women and old men depositing their gold—the only absolute security against want they have! That is faith made evident, and love.
* * * * *
In looking over the bulky file of French newspapers, illustrated weeklies, and pamphlets on the war, which I brought back with me, I am struck by the fact that the outstanding characteristic of all this comment on the great war from journalist to statesman and publicist is not denunciation of the barbarian. Denunciation plays a singularly small part in the French reaction to their suffering. References to Germans and Germany are usually of a psychological or humorous character, illustrating the grotesque and antipathetic aspects in which the Teuton presents himself to the Latin mind. That part which grieving and denunciation have played in English comment, the gross and apoplectic hate of the German press, is taken by lyrical enthusiasm for heroism. The newspapers, sure pulse of popular appetite, are filled daily with stories of sacrifice, gallantry, heroism. This is the aspect of the sordid bloody war that the French spirit feeds on. It is a fresh manifestation of an old national trait—the love of chivalry. Some day, doubtless, these splendid tales of individual heroism, of soldierly and civilian sacrifice, will be gathered together to make the laurel wreath of the New France. I could fill a volume with those I have read and heard. And I like to think that while Germany went wild over the torpedoing of the Lusitania,—even dared to celebrate it in America,—while the Zeppelin raids arouse her patriotic enthusiasm, the French gloat over the story of the private who crawled out of the trench and hunted for two days without food or water for his wounded officer. The love of the beau geste is an ineradicable trait of French character. It has had a bountiful satisfaction in this war.
"We have fought a chivalrous war," General C. exclaimed, pointing to the little figure of Jeanne d'Arc. The same general ordered that the government dole of a franc and a half a day be paid to those Alsatian women whose husbands were fighting in the German army. "They are French women: it is not their fault that their husbands are fighting against France!" And the deathless touch of all, which will be remembered in the world long after the destruction wrought to the cathedral of Rheims, is the picture of French saving German wounded in the burning church—fired by German shells!
The beau geste, the beautiful act, which ennobles all men, not merely the doer of the deed,—that is what France is giving the world. The image of men who are more than efficient and strong and physically courageous, of men who are filled with a divine spirit of sacrifice and devotion. Truly supermen.
Chivalry was a trait of the Old France as it is of the New. It has fallen somewhat into disrepute of late years with the rise of the comfort and efficiency standards. Nowhere else on the broad battlefields of Europe has it revived, to redeem the horror of war, so shiningly as in the New France.
* * * * *
Another aspect of French character which is both old and new is the quality of humorous "sportsmanship" the French have displayed. When Germany's crack aviator made a daily visit to Paris, dropping bombs, in the afternoon during the early weeks of the war, the Parisians took his arrival as a spectacle and thronged the boulevards to watch him and applaud. When at last he was shot through the head, the French press lamented his loss with genuine appreciation of his nerve and his skill. A young cavalry officer at the front told me this story: One of the younger officers of his regiment, to encourage his men, had offered rewards for German shoulder straps, that is, prisoners. Two simple peasants, misunderstanding his words, proudly brought in a couple of pairs of German ears strung on a string like game. The officer, brooding over the incident, resolved to explain and apologize to the enemy. Putting his handkerchief on the point of his sword, he crawled out of the trench and advanced across the field of death between the lines.
Tales from the trenches by the hundreds prove that the French have not lost the sparkle of wit even under the dreary conditions of trench-fighting. When Italy joined the Allies, some soldiers of a front-line trench hoisted the placard,—"Macaroni mit uns!" Again, when boasting placards of German successes in Galicia were displayed, the French poilus retorted,—"You lie. You have taken ten thousand officers and ten millions of troops." When in a German military prison the keepers boasted of their recent successes on the western front, the French prisoners began to sing the Marseillaise to the astonishment of their German guards, "because," as they explained, "we know if you have killed all those French soldiers, you must have lost at least four times as many!"
The barbarian misread the Gallic love of wit and laughter. To joke and quip seemed to him beneath the dignity of men. It is, rather, the safety-valve of a highly intelligent people—the outlet for their ironic perceptions of life. The most amusing songs of the war that I have heard were given by the poilus on a little stage near Commercy while the cannon thundered a few miles away. This ability to turn upon himself and see his life in a humorous light is an invaluable quality of the French soldier. So, too, is his love of handicraft which finds many ingenious expressions even in the trenches. The French soldier is always a civilian, with a love of neatly arranged gardens and terraces, and he lays out a potager in the curve of a shell-swept hillside, or a neat flower garden in the crumbled walls of a village house. He makes rings from the aluminum found in German shell-caps, carves the doorposts of his stone dugout, or likenesses of his officers on beam-ends, as I saw in a colonel's quarters in the Bois-le-Pretre.
The French soldier remains, even in this bloodiest of wars, always a civilian, a man, capable of laughter and tears, of heroic heights, of chivalrous sacrifices,—with the soul's image of what manhood requires, with the vision of a state of free individual men like himself.
* * * * *
The New France is inspired with qualities of Old France, qualities which I call Latin, which have emerged into high relief under grief and suffering and effort. It is above all gallant and high-minded. The wounded Frenchman never complains or whimpers. "C'est la guerre—que voulez-vous!" To the surgeon who has operated on him,—"Merci, mon major." And they lie legless or armless, perhaps with running sores, a smile on the face in answer to the sympathetic word, in long hospital rows....
The fundamental element in this New France is the gravity, the seriousness of it. Of all the warring peoples the French seem to realize most clearly what it all means, what it is for, and the deep import of the decision not merely to them, but to the whole world. They are fighting, not for territory, but for principles. Peace must be not a rearrangement of maps, but of men's ideas, of men's wills. They are the conscious protagonists of a long tradition of ideals that have once more been put in jeopardy. It is the character of this human world of ours which they are struggling to mould, and like actors in a Greek tragedy they are suitably impressed with the gravity of the issue in their hands.
The New France has been born in the travail of the monstrous desolation of trench-land that stretches, scabby with shell-holes, leprous with gray wire, pitted with countless graves, scarred with crumbled villages for four hundred miles across the fair fields of la douce France. In this savage desert, inhumanly silent except for the shrieking of shells, for now more than a year's time France has struggled with the incarnated spirit of evil, rearing its head again, armed with all the enginery of modern science. The little, dirty-bearded soldiers squat there in their burrows, white-faced, tense, silent, waiting, watching, month after month, or plunge over their walls to give their lives on that death-field outside. They are the simple martyrs of the New France.
* * * * *
France has learned her German lesson; has reorganized her life to make it tell effectively for her task, has reorganized her inner life, discarding frivolity and waste. She has found herself in the fire. France is not "done for," as my German-American friends so pityingly deem. Bleeding from her terrible wounds, she is stronger today than ever before,—stronger in will, in spirit, in courage, the things that count in the long, long run even in the winning of wars. Technically minded soldiers may judge that "Germany can't be beaten." But the French know in their souls that she can be, that she is beaten today! In this greatest of world's decisions it is the spirit of the Latin that triumphs again—the sanest, suavest, noblest tradition that the earth has ever known, under which men may work out their mysterious destiny.
What Does It Mean to Us?
I went from the French front back to America. The steamer slipped down the Gironde between green vineyards, past peaceful villages, a whole universe distant from that grim, gray trench-land where the French army was holding the invader in Titan grip, stole cautiously into the Bay of Biscay at nightfall to escape prowling submarines, and began to roll in the Atlantic surges, part of those "three thousand miles of cool sea-water" on which our President so complacently relies as a nonconductor of warfare. I was homeward bound to America, the land of Peace, after four months spent in "war-ridden Europe"—to that homeland stranger somehow than the war lands, where my countrymen were protesting to both belligerents and making money, manufacturing war supplies and blowing up factories, talking "peace" and "preparedness" in the same breath; also—and God be thanked for that!—helping to feed the starving Belgians, sending men, money, and sympathy to the French. As the old steamer settled into her fourteen-knot gait, the submarines ceased to be of more than conversational concern, and I began to ask myself,—"What does it all mean to us, this bloody sacrifice of world war,—to us, strong, rich, peaceful, confident Americans?"
For in spite of a curious indifference among many Americans to the outcome, so long as it did not get us into trouble with either party, betrayed by personal letters and press articles which I had received, I was profoundly convinced that the issues of the world tragedy were momentous to us too. "This European butchery means nothing," said one friend, who supplies editorial comment for a most widely read American weekly, "except a lot of poverty, a lot of cripples, and a lot of sodden hate in the hearts of the people engaged. Europe will not be changed appreciably as a result of the war!" Our pacifist ex-Secretary of State, I remember, wrote Baron d'Estournelles de Constant inquiring what the French were fighting for, implying that to the reasonable onlooker there was no clear issue involved in the whole business, merely the passions of misguided patriotism. The well-meaning agitation for peace, which as I write has been lifted into the grotesque by the Ford peace ship, is based largely on this inability to realize the reality of the issue between the belligerents. And there is our national attitude of strict neutrality, which fairly represents the evasive mind of many Americans. Happily, they seem to say to themselves, "This war is not our affair." We were warned by Washington to keep clear of European "quarrels," and wisely we covered our retreat at The Hague by inserting that little clause which relieved us from all real responsibility for the observance of the conventions. Excuse for cowardice and blindness of vision! Such Americans like to think that as a nation we have no more concern in the present war than a peaceable family in one house has with the domestic upheavals of an unfortunate family in the next house. The part of prudence is to ignore all evidences of unpleasantness, to profess good offices, and to keep on friendly terms with all the belligerents.
The impression that such an attitude makes on the American in Europe is painful, whether it be expressed in personal letters, in newspapers and magazines, or in diplomatic "notes." He becomes impatient with the provincialism of his own people, ashamed of their transparent selfishness, astonished that human values should have got so fatally distorted in our fat, comfortable world. To the European, American neutrality has become a matter of public indifference, of private contempt. Inspired with the lofty ambition of playing the role of mediator in the world war, President Wilson has lost his chance of influencing the decision toward which Europe is bloodily fighting its way. At that great peace conference which every European has perpetually in mind, America will be ignored. Only those who have shared the bloody sacrifice—at least have had the courage to declare their beliefs—will penetrate its inner councils. We have had our reward—money and safety. It is not fantastic even to expect that the conquerors might under certain circumstances say to the conquered, "Take your losses from the Americans: they alone have made money out of our common woe!"
No, ours has not been the beau geste as a nation. Nor can the American take comfort in the thought that Washington diplomacy does not fairly represent the sentiment of our people. As the weeks slip past, it is only too evident that our President has interpreted exactly the national will. The farther west one travels the colder is the American heart, and duller the American vision. The numerical center of the United States is somewhere in the Mississippi Valley. Europe gave Chicago, in her distress after the great fire, eighty cents per person; Chicago has given Belgium and France seven cents per Chicagoan. Not a single Chicago bank appears on the list of subscribers to the Anglo-French loan,—very few banks anywhere west of the Alleghanies. "It is not our quarrel; we are not concerned except to get our money for the goods we sell them!"
* * * * *
But are we not concerned? I asked myself as the old steamer throbbed wheezily westward. Beneath the deck in the ship's strong room there were thick bundles of American bonds, millions of them, part of the big American mortgage that Europe has been obliged to sell back to us. They represent European savings, hopes of tranquil old age, girls' dots, boys' education and start in life. The American mortgage is being lifted rapidly. The stocks and bonds were going home to pay for the heavy cargoes of foodstuffs and ammunition and clothes which we had been shipping to Europe. The savings of the thrifty French were going to us, who were too rich already. The French were bleeding their thrift into our bulging pockets, selling their investments for shells and guns and barbed wire which would not keep old age warm, marry their girls, or start their boys in life. They were doing it freely, proudly, for the salvation of their patrie, which they love as the supreme part of themselves. And to us what did all this sacrifice mean? Oh, that we were growing richer day by day while the war lasted; "dollar exchange" was coming nearer; we were fast getting "rotten with money," as a genial young coal merchant who had the deck chair next mine remarked affably. Yes, the war meant that to us surely,—we were fast raking in most of the gold that Europe has been forced to throw on the table of international finance, the savings, the dots, the stakes of her next generation. The number of lean-faced American business men, war brokers, on the steamer was plain evidence of that. Already Prosperity was flooding into America—that prosperity upon which our President congratulated the country in his Thanksgiving address.
But is that prosperity a good thing for the American people just now? Aside from the speculation excited by the superabundance of gold in our banks, there is the envy of hungry Europe to be reckoned with a few months or years hence, after the close of the great war, an envy that might readily be translated into predatory action under certain circumstances, as some thoughtful Americans are beginning to perceive. Eastern America, where the war money has largely settled, is already fearful, desires to arm the nation to protect its prosperity. And there is the more subtle, the more profound danger that this undigested war bloat of ours will dull the American vision still further to the real issue at stake—the kind of world we are willing, the kind of soul we wish, to possess. Can we safely digest the prosperity that the happy accident of our temporary isolation and the prudent policies of our Government have given us? Are we not feeding a cancer that will take another war to cut from our vitals?
* * * * *
Most of us on board were Americans going about our businesses on a belligerent nation's ship in defiance of Mr. Bryan's advice. The man next to me was building a new munitions plant for France, and beyond him was the European manager for a large American corporation whose factories have been taken over by the German Government. He was returning to America to enter the munitions business in Pittsburg or Connecticut. To these commercial travelers of war the European struggle meant, naturally, first of all money, the opportunity of a lifetime to make money quickly; it meant also less vividly helping the Allies, who needed everything they could get from us and were willing to pay almost any price for it. Sometimes they talked of the long list of "accidents" that were happening daily in American factories and genially cursed the hyphenated Germans. As for the other sort of Germans they felt vaguely that some day America must reckon with them, too. Evidently they put small faith in the "three thousand miles of cool sea-water" as a nonconductor of warfare! So here was another aspect of the war—the possible dangers to us, without a friend in the world, as every one agreed. And we talked "preparedness" in the usual desultory way. The munitions men seemed to think that they were patriotically working for their own country in getting "the plant" of war into being. "Some day we shall need guns and shells too!" Afterwards I found in America that this vague fear of probable enemies had seized hold of the country quite generally, and that the very Government which had done nothing toward settling the present war rightly was planning for "defense" with a prodigal hand. Peaceful America was getting alarmed—of what?
There were also in our number some young doctors and nurses who were returning from the hospitals in France for a little needed rest. They were of those young Americans who are giving themselves so generously for the cause, eager, courageous, sympathetic. They seemed to me to have gotten most from the war of all us Americans, much more than the munitions men who were making money so fast. In Belgium, in Serbia, behind the French lines, in the great hospital at Neuilly, they had got comprehension and all the priceless rewards of pure giving. They had seen horror, suffering, and waste indescribable; but they had seen heroism and devotion and chivalry. And with them should be joined all the tender-hearted and generous Americans at home who have aided their efforts, who are working with the energy of the American character "for the cause." Alas, already the word was coming of a relaxation in the generosities, the devotions, the enthusiasms of these Americans. Other interests were coming into our rapid activities to distract us from last year's sympathies....
* * * * *
So as we rolled on through the soft summer night while the passengers discussed the latest Russian reverse of which news had been received by wireless, I kept asking myself,—"What does it really mean to us? To vast, rich, young America?" Surely not merely more money, more power, even a loftier inspiration for the few who have given themselves generously in sympathy and aid. After all, these were but incidental. The threat we were beginning to feel to our own security, this campaign for "preparedness," did not seem of prime, moving importance. Probably in our bewildered state of mind we should wrangle politically about the matter of how much defense we needed, then drop some more hundreds of millions into the bottomless pit of governmental extravagance and waste. We had already spent enough to equip another Germany! When peace was finally made in Europe, we would forget our fears; our Congressmen and their parasites would fatten on the new appropriations, which would be as actually futile as all their predecessors had been. No; these were hardly the significant aspects of the war to us as a people.
No more was that acrobatic exhibition of diplomatic tight-rope walking we had witnessed from Washington. Mere "words, words, words, professor!" Our dialectic President had thus far failed to establish any one of his contentions, either with Germany or Great Britain, nor did it seem likely that he ever could. While he was still modifying that awkward phrase, "strict accountability," Germany obviously would murder whomsoever it suited her purpose to murder, and England would hold up any ship that attempted to trade with Germany. All those neutral rights for which Washington was paying big cable tolls had not been advanced an atom. The time had gone by when our strong voice could compel respect from the barbarian, could hearten the soul of other weaker neutrals. Europe had taken our exact measure. We should have saved some dignity had we not murmured more than a formal protest....
And yet, returning from "war-ridden Europe" I was more convinced than of anything else in life that what was being slowly settled in that grim trench—land over there did mean something to us—more, much more than money or neutral rights or sympathetic charities. Not that I was apprehensive of an immediate German raid on New York, the crumbling of her sky-scrapers and the exaction of colossal indemnities. For it looked to me that Germany might well have other occupation after peace was made in Europe, whichever way the war should go. The German peril did not lie, I thought, in her big guns, her ships, her "Prussianized machine." It lay deeper, in herself, in her image of the world. If Germany could win even a partial victory under that monstrous creed of applied materialism, illuminated as it had been with every sort of cynical crime, with its reasoned defiance of contract, its principle of "indispensable severities," its "military reasons," that must become inexorably the law of the world—the barbarians' law. Germany would have made the morality of the world! And of all the world's peoples to accept the victor's new reading of the commandments, proud America would be the first. For we cannot resist the fascination of success. The German aim, the German tyranny over the individual, the German morality—one for you and me as individuals and another utterly lawless one when we get together in a social state—would be imitated more than the German lesson of thoroughness in civil and military organization. Hypnotized by German success, we should not discipline ourselves, which is the German lesson, so much as we should riot in the moral license of the German creed. Americans would worship at the altar of that queer "old German god," who apparently encourages rape, murder, arson, and tyranny in his followers. For in young America, with every social tradition in it seething blood, there is already an insidious tendency to accept this new-old religion of triumphant force. American "Big Business" can understand the Kaiser's philosophy, can reverence his "old German god" when he brings victory, more than any other people outside of Germany. For it, too, believes in "putting things over" with a strong hand. There is not an argument of the German militarist propaganda that would not find a sympathetic echo somewhere in the headquarters of American corporations.
* * * * *
When the old fourteen-knot steamer finally dropped anchor off quarantine in New York Harbor and the reporters came on board with the dust of America on their shoes, the roar of America in their voices, I was surer than ever that this greatest of world wars meant a vast deal more to us than trade or charity or politics, which is what we seem to be making of it for the most part. It means the form which our national character is to take ultimately. The German peril, which is held before the public in moving pictures and in alarmist appeals for "preparedness," is already in our midst, not so much at work blowing up our factories as insidiously at work in our hearts. The German apologist—even of Anglo-Saxon blood—is suggesting the reasonableness of a German verdict. "After all," one hears from his lips, "there is much on the other side of the shield, which our English prejudices have prevented us from seeing. Germany cannot be the monster of barbarism that she has been painted. As for broken treaties, the atrocities, the submarines, the murder of Edith Cavell, and her rough work over here,—well, we must remember it is war, and the Russian Cossacks have not been saints!... As to her military autocracy, perhaps a little of it would not be a bad thing for America. At any rate, Germany seems to have the power—it is useless to think of putting her down.... The American public will forget all about German crimes once Germany is victorious." "Nothing succeeds like success." "There is always a reason for success," etc. Which cynical acceptance proves that we have already "committed adultery in our hearts."
There are many voices in the air, too many. Americans have not yet found themselves in this crisis of world tragedy, and the Government at Washington has not helped them to an understanding. We are vastly relieved at not finding ourselves "involved" and accept shabby verbal subterfuges as a triumph of American diplomacy. Meanwhile the Lusitania incident has been conveniently forgotten, with the awkward phrase "strictly accountable." Along the eastern seaboard the anxious and the timid are clamoring for "defense"—against what? The talkative pacifists, who would make a grotesque farce of the bloody sacrifice by a futile peace, are bringing further ridicule and contempt on their country with their impertinent if well-meant efforts. Meantime, the money-makers have taken this occasion to stage a spectacular bull market, grumbling on the fruits of war! And there is the "good-time" side to American life. For a few brief months after the outbreak of the war Americans were staggered by the awfulness of the tragedy and moved under its shadow. Their hearts went out in sympathy, in feeding the dispossessed, and sending aid to the wounded. We spent less on ourselves, partly because of financial fear, partly because of our desire to give, partly because our hearts were too heavy to play. But already that serious mood is passing, and to-day as a people we are hard at it again, chasing a good time. We feel once more the same old lustful urge to get and enjoy.... The other night as I looked out on the peopled sea of the New York opera-house, with its women richly dressed and jeweled, its white-faced men, leading the same life of easy prodigal expense, of sensual gratification, I remembered another opera staged in the mysterious twilight of Bayreuth where from the gloom emerged the hoarse bass of Fafner's cry,—"I lie here possessing!" The voice of the great worm proved to be the voice of Germany. Is it ours also?
* * * * *
Do we Americans desire to have our world Germanized? Not in art and language and customs, though may Heaven preserve us from that fate also! But Germanized in soul? Do we want the German image or the Latin image of the world to prevail? And are we strong enough in our own ideal to resist a "peaceful penetration" by triumphant Germany into our minds and hearts? That is the urgent matter for us. No amount spent on big guns, superdreadnoughts, submarines, and continental guards—no amount of peace talk—can keep the German peril out of America if we surrender our souls to her creed, now that Germany seems to be imposing it successfully with her armies in Europe. Those dirty poilus in the front trenches are, indeed, fighting our battle for us, if we did but know it!
"We have all sinned, your people as well as mine, the English, the French, the Germans, all, all of us,—but Germany has sinned most." When M. Hanotaux spoke these words with a Hebraic fervor of conviction, I did not have to be told what he meant. The people of our time have sinned through their hot desire for material possession of the earth and its riches—through commercialism, capitalism, call it what you will. Each great nation has made its selfish race for economic advancement at the expense of other peoples: commercial rivalry has largely begotten this bloody war, which is essentially a predatory raid by one barbarous tribe against the riches of its neighbors. Whether England or Russia under similar circumstances would have dared a similar attack on the liberties of the world is open to speculation. To Germany alone, however, has been reserved the distinction of elevating greed and the lust of power to the dignity of a philosophic system, a creed with the religious sanction of that "old German god" to smite the rivals of the Fatherland and take away their wealth. It is because Germany has made a consistent monster out of her materialistic interpretation of modern science that she is now held up before the nations of the world as a spectacle and a warning. "We have all sinned" in believing that the body is more than the spirit, that food and pleasure and power are the primary ends of all living; but Germany alone has had the effrontery to justify her cynicism by conscious theory and to teach it systematically to all her people. She has endowed with life a philosophical idea, given it the personality of her people, created a national Frankenstein to be feared and loathed. More, she is coming perilously nigh to imposing her god upon the world!
We have all worshiped at the shrine of material achievement—in America with the riot of young strength. England, like old King Amfortas, is now bleeding from the sins of her youth and calling in vain for some Parsifal to deliver her from their penalty. She has built her rich civilization on a morass of exploited millions, and her Nemesis is that in her hour of peril her sodden millions strike and drink and feel no imperative urge to give their lives for an England that sucked her prosperity from their veins. In the race for commercial supremacy the Latin nations—Italy, Spain, and France—have been deemed inferior to Germany, England, and the United States, because they were less tainted with the lust of possession, less materialistic in their reading of life, less powerful in their grasp upon economic opportunity than their rivals. In the Latin countries industry yet remains largely on the small scale, which is economically wasteful, but which does not build up fabulous wealth at the expense of the individual worker. The great corporation designed for the rapid creation of wealth has not found that congenial home on Latin soil which it has on ours, or on German soil. And this fact accounts for the touch of handicraft lingering in the product of Latin industry, for the strength and health individually of their working classes, for their fervor of devotion to the national tradition. The Latin has never forgotten the claims of the individual life: democracy to him is more than the right to vote. Therefore, pure art, pure science, pure literature—also the world of ideas—has a larger part in the life of Latin peoples than with us in the eternal struggle with the materialistic forces of life. To the Latin living is not solely the gratification of the body. He reckons on the intelligence and the spirit of man as well.
* * * * *
It may seem to some that throughout these pages I have spoken paradoxically of the world war as primarily a struggle between the Latin and the Germanic ideal, ignoring the significance of Russia and of England. In spite of the heroic resistance of the French and the pertinacious thrust of the Italians against the steel wall in which Austria has bound them, the Latin forces engaged are obviously less than half of the Allied Powers. On the sea England is virtually alone. Nevertheless, I see the struggle as a Latin-German one, the great decision as essentially a decision between these two types of ideals. All else is relative and accidental. Apart from the surprising vitality developed by the two Latin peoples, their astonishing force in the brutal struggle for survival,—which has disagreeably put wrong the calculations of their enemy,—it is the mental and spiritual leadership of the world which is being fought for rather than the physical. The ideas and the ideals under which the Allies are fighting, which can be simply summed up however divergent their manifestations, are French, are Latin ideas and ideals, not English, not Russian. The spirit of the cause to which England has lent her imperial supremacy and Russia her undeveloped strength is Latin, and since the war began the English have widely borne testimony to this fact.
The right of peoples, little as well as strong nations, to live their own lives, to preserve their own political autonomy, to develop their own traditions, is part of the Latin lesson learned in the throes of the great Revolution. It is expressed passionately, wistfully in that universal cry of the French people: "We must end this thing—it must never happen again—we must win the right to live as we see fit, not under the dictation of another!" To the Latin mind the world is peopled by individuals who cannot and should not be pressed in the same political or economic mould, who must win their individual salvation by an individual struggle and evolution. This is the ideal of liberty the world over, which prompted France to send us help in our struggle with England. It is a wasteful, an uneconomic ideal, as we Americans have proved in our slovenly administration of our great inheritance. Yet we would not have a machine-made, autocratic organization, no matter how clean and thrifty and efficient it might make our cities. We prefer the slow process of conversion to the machine process of coercion. And that is one source of our sympathy with French civilization. Let us have all liberty to its possible limit short of license: the Latin intelligence has known how to preserve liberty from becoming license. The result in the human being of the principle of liberty is individual intelligence and spiritual power; those are the high ideals toward which democracy aims. The cost of them is efficiency, organization—immediate results which German discipline obtains. But the cost of the German ideal is the humanity of life, and that is too big a price to pay. That there should be found many among us who are willing to exchange the spiritual flower of our civilization for the sake of a more efficient social organization is evidence of the extent to which the cancer of a materialistic commercialism has already eaten into our life.
* * * * *
The Latin vision of life includes chivalry, as has been abundantly revealed by the spirit of the French, sorely tried in their struggle with the new barbarian. Chivalry means beauty of conduct, an uneconomic, a sentimental ideal, but without which the life of man on this earth would be forlorn, lacking in dignity, in meaning. Take from mankind the shadowy dream of himself implied in his desire for a chivalrous world, and you leave him a naked animal from the jungle, more despicable the more skillful he becomes in gratifying his lusts. The Latin vision of life includes also beauty of art, man's radiation of his inner spiritual world, and closely woven with the love of art is respect for tradition—reverence for the past which has been bequeathed to him by his ancestors, which is incorporated in his blood.
We in America have striven for these beauties of chivalry, art, and tradition. We have striven to put them into our lives often blindly, crudely. We have borrowed and bought what we could not create; instinctively we pay homage to what is beyond our industrial power to make, confessing the inadequacy of our materialism to satisfy our souls. We, too, demand a world in which beauty of conduct, beauty of manners, and beauty of art shall be cultivated to give meaning to our lives. The bombardment of Rheims, the murder of Edith Cavell are as shameful to the American mind as to the French, and as incomprehensible. These are not matters of reason, but of instinct—commands of the soul.
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The Latin ideal is not predatory. Whatever they may have done in their past, the Latin peoples to-day are not greedy of conquest. If the Allies win, France will gain little territory. Both Italy and France have limited their territorial ambitions to securing their future safety by establishing frontiers on natural barriers. France also expects indemnity for her huge losses and for outraged Belgium. She must rebuild her home and be freed for generations to come from the inhibiting fear of invasion. One does not feel so confident of England: in the past she has had the pilfering hand. But from prudence if not from shame England may content herself with a reestablished prestige and a tranquil Europe. Russia has already reconciled herself to relinquishing Poland, and except for her natural ambition to enter the Mediterranean she seems without predatory desires. Russia, it should not be forgotten, took up arms to protect her own kin from the Austrians. The Slav and the Latin have a spiritual sympathy that cannot exist between the Latin and the Teuton, which gives their present union more than an accidental significance.
Whatever secret ambitions may be brewing in the chancelleries of Europe, France has put herself on record against conquest too emphatically to countenance at the peace conference any predatory rearrangement of the map of Europe. She has made the great war a struggle of principle—the principle of national liberty against the principle of military conquest. It is this great principle which gives significance to her cause and justifies the awful slaughter and waste of bleeding Europe. If the pretensions of physical might, no matter with what excuses, can be thoroughly defeated, proved to be an impossible theory of life, so that never again in the history of the world will a nation attempt to take with the sword what does not belong to it, the bloody sacrifice will have been well worth making. The issues of the great conflict have been obscured, especially in America, but to the humblest soldier of France they are as clear as blazing sunlight. "Never again!" Never the monstrous pretension that power alone makes right, that the will to eat gives free license to the eater, however great his appetite or his belief in himself. That is the cause of all the world, for which the French are willing to give all that they have. And I know no cause more important to be settled for the future of the human race.
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Are we not interested in the right decision of this cause? A peaceable people, loving our own way, jealous of interference, we should assuredly present a lamentable spectacle were we called upon to defend ourselves against a predatory enemy. Possibly a more lamentable spectacle of inefficiency combined with corruption than England has given the world the past year! And at last we are becoming aware that our policy of selfish isolation does not mean immunity from attack. We are realizing that those "three thousand miles of cool sea-water" no longer make an effectual barrier against the ingenuity of modern men.
But I would not put the matter on the selfish basis of our own security. It is vastly larger than that. It is, vitally, what manner of world we wish to have for ourselves and our children. At the invasion of Belgium, America gave with splendid unanimity the response: Americans did not want the German world! Since then, alas, it would seem that the clear moral reaction of our people to the demonstration of the world struggle has been gradually weakening: we are becoming confused, permitting insidious reasoners to cloud the issue, listening to the prompting of the beast in our own bellies, hesitating, dividing, excusing, evading the great question—"seeing both sides." As if there were two sides to such a plain issue stripped of all its fallacies and subterfuges and lies! Do we wish to have American life take on the moral and intellectual and artistic color of German ideals? Do we prefer the "old German god" to the culture and humanities we have inherited from the Latin tradition?... "We, too, have sinned." In our blood is all the crude materialism of a triumphant Germany without her discipline and her organization. We, too, are ready to enter the fierce war of commercial rivalry with England and Germany. We, too, believe in the good of economic expansion, though dubious about our own imperialism. Surely no people that ever lived stood hesitating so dangerously at the crossroads as America at this hour. Prudence has prevented us as a nation from pronouncing that moral verdict on the cause which might have had decisive weight in hastening the world decision. But a selfish timidity cannot prevent us individually from realizing the immense importance to us of the decision that is being ground out in the tears and blood of Europe. And no ideal of diplomatic neutrality can prevent Americans who care for anything but their own selfish well-being from doing all in their power to make ours a Latin rather than a Teutonic world.
Every soldier who dies in the trenches of France, who bears a maimed and disfigured body through life, is giving himself for us, so that we may live in a world where individual rights and liberties are respected, where beauty of conduct and beauty of art may endure, where life means more than the satisfaction of bodily appetites.
The real cynics of the war are the pacifists. They see nothing more serious in the European agony than what can be disposed of easily at any time in a peace conference—by talk and adjustment. So obsessed are some of them by the slaughter of men, by the woe and travail of Europe, that they would turn the immense sacrifice into a grotesque farce by any sort of compromise—a peace that could be no peace, merely the armistice for further war. Their eyes are so blinded by the economic waste of the war and its suffering that they are incapable of seeing the great underlying principle that must be decided. Americans, having evaded the responsibility of pronouncing a decisive moral judgment on the rape of Belgium, the sinking of the Lusitania, and the extermination of the Armenians, play the buffoon with women's peace conferences, peace ships, and endless impertinent peace talk. We, who have forfeited our right to sit at the peace conference, who are busily making money off the war, having prudently kept our own skins out of danger, are officiously ready with proposals of peace. What a peace! The only peace that could be made to-day would be a dastardly treason to every one of the millions whose blood has watered Europe, to every woman who has given a son or a father or a husband to the settlement of the cause. The parochialism of the American intelligence has never been more humiliatingly displayed than in the activities of our busy peacemakers.
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No sane person believes in war. The sordidness and the horror of war have never been so fully revealed as during this past year. War has been stripped of its every romantic feature. Modern war is worse than hell—it is pure insanity. We do not need peace foundations, peace conferences, peace ships to demonstrate the awfulness of war. But crying peace, thinking peace, willing peace will not bring peace unless conditions that make peace exist. Here in America we use the word peace too loosely, as if it meant some absolute state of being which we had achieved through our innate wisdom rather than from the happy accident of our world position. But peace is an entirely relative term, as any one who has given heed to the social conditions we have created should realize. We have enjoyed a certain kind of peace, the value of which is debatable. And now, alarmed at the exposed condition of our eastern seaboard, we are agitatedly preparing to arm to protect ourselves—from what? From Germany? Or is it from England? And still we recommend an instant peace to Europe!
Awful as are the waste and suffering caused by war, hideous as modern warfare is, there are worse evils for humanity. To my thinking the perpetuation of the lawless, materialistic creed of the new Germany would be infinitely worse for the world than any war could be. When the German tide broke into Belgium and poured out over northern France, sweeping all before it, killing, burning, raping, the pacifists no doubt would have accepted the conqueror as the will of God and have made peace then!... There are none more eager for peace than the soldiers in the trenches who are giving their lives to press back the barbarian flood. But no peace until their "work has been done, the cause won." I have heard Americans express the fear that European civilization is in danger of annihilation from the prolonged conflict. Even that were preferable to submission to the wrong ideal. But I see, rather, the possibility of a higher civilization through the settlement of fundamental principles, the reaffirmation of necessary laws. It is surely with this abiding faith that the enormous sacrifices are being freely made by the allied nations. "It is of little importance what happens to us," a Frenchman said to me in Rheims, whose home had been destroyed that morning, whose son had already been killed in the trenches. "There will be a better world for the generations to come because of what we have endured." That is what the American pacifist cannot seem to understand—the necessity of present sacrifice for a better future, the cost in blood and agony of ultimate principles.
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This war is leading us all back to the basic commonplaces of thinking. Is life under any and all conditions worth the having? Our reason says not. It tells us that the diseased and the weak-minded should not be permitted to breed, that an anaemic existence under degenerating influences is not worth calling life. We shudder in our armchairs at the thought of "cannon food," but why not shudder equally at the words "factory food," "mine food," and "sweat-shop food"? We are inclined to sentimentalize over those brave lives that have been spent by the hundreds of thousands on the battlefields of France and Poland, but for the most part we live placidly unconscious of the lives ground out in industrial competition all about us. Between the two methods of eating up, of maiming, of suppressing human lives, the battle method may be the more humane—I should prefer it for myself, for my child. What our pacifists desire is not so much peace as bloodlessness. We should be honest enough to recognize that for many human beings,—possibly a majority even in our prosperous, war-free society,—a violent death may not be by any means the worst event. And it may be the happiest if the individual is convinced that the sacrifice of his existence will help others to realize a better life. That is the hope, the faith of every loyal soldier who dies for his country, of every soldier's father and mother who pays with a son for the endurance of those ideals more precious than life itself.
The higher one rises in consciousness, the more nearly free and self-determined life becomes, the greater are the rewards of complete sacrifice. There are many who have "fallen on the field of honor" whose lives, if lived out under normal peace conditions, might have meant much to themselves, possibly to humanity. They have given themselves freely, without question, for what seems to them of more importance than life. Wounded, mutilated past all usefulness, dying, they have not rebelled. Doctors and nurses in the hospitals tell the story of their endurance without complaint of their bitter fate. Much as we must feel the awful price which they have felt obliged to pay, it is not sentimental to say that the finer spirits among them have lived more fully in the few crowded weeks of their struggle than if they had been permitted to live out their lives in all the gratifications of our comfortable civilization. Letters from them give an extraordinary revelation of priceless qualities gained by these soldiers through complete renunciation and sacrifice. War, it must not be denied, is a great developer as well as a destroyer of life. Nothing else, it would seem, in our present state of evolution presses the cup of human experience so full of realization and understanding as battle and death. The men who are paying for their beliefs with their lives are living more in moments and hours than we who escape the ordeal can ever live. For life cannot be measured by time or comfort or enjoyment. It is too subtle for that! A supreme effort, even a supreme agony, may have more real living worth than years of "normal" existence. The youths whose graves now dot so plentifully the pleasant fields of France have drunk deeper than we can fathom of the mystery of life.
As for the nation, that greater mother for whose existence they have given their individual lives, there is even less question of the benefit of this war. We Americans are fond of measuring loss and gain in figures: we reckon up the huge war debts, the toll of killed and wounded, and against this heavy account we set down—nothing. It is all dead loss. Yet even to-day, in the crisis of their struggle, there is not a Frenchman who will not admit the immense good that has already come to his people, that will come increasingly out of the bloody sacrifice. The war has united all individuals, swept aside the trivial and the base, revealed the nation to itself. The French have discovered within their souls and shown before the world qualities, unsuspected or forgotten, of chivalry, steadfastness, seriousness, and they have renewed their familiar virtues of bravery and good humor and intelligence. The French soldier, the French citizen, and the French woman are to-day marvelously moulded in the heroic type of their best tradition: in the full sense of the word they are gallant—chivalrous, self-forgetful, devoted. Is there any price too great to pay for such a resurrection of human nobility?
The pacifist is fain to babble of the "disciplines of peace." No one denies them. But how can humanity be compelled to embrace these disciplines of peace? The German lesson of thoroughness and social organization and responsibility was as necessary before the war as it is to-day, but neither England nor France, neither Russia nor our own America gave heed to it until the terrible menace of extermination in this war ground the lesson into their unwilling souls. It may be lamentable that humanity should still be held so firmly in the grip of biologic law that it must kill and be killed in order to save itself, but there are things worse than death. Until humanity learns the secret of self-discipline it will create diseases that can be eradicated only with the knife; it is merely blind to assume that the insanity of war can be prevented by any system of parliamenting, or litigation, or paper schemes of international arbitration. Some issues are of a primary importance, unarguable, fundamental. No man—and no nation—is worthy of life who is not ready to lay it down in their settlement. I know that some Americans are still unable to perceive that any such fundamental principle is at stake in Europe to-day. Extraordinary as it seems to me I hear intelligent men refer to the great war as if it were a local quarrel of no real consequence to us. Even the humblest poilu in the trenches, the simplest working-woman in France, know that they are giving themselves not merely in the righteous cause of self-defense, but in the world's cause in defense of its best tradition, its highest ideals. Their cause is big enough to consecrate them.
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Therefore a new, a larger, a more vital life has already begun for invaded and unconquered France! In order to reap the blessings of war, a nation must have an irreproachable cause, and aside from Belgium, France has the clearest record of all the belligerents in this world war. She will gain most from it, not in land or wealth, but in honor and moral strength, in dignity and pride. She is ready to pay the great price for her soul. This is the one supreme inspiration that the French are giving an admiring world—their readiness to give all rather than yield to the evil that threatens them. With the light of such nobility in one's eyes, it is difficult, indeed, to be patient with the cynical clamor of comfortable neutrals for peace at any price. If there is anything of dignity and meaning in human life, it lies in selfless devotion to beliefs, to principles; it is readiness to sacrifice happiness, life, all, in their defense.
And that is patriotism in its larger aspect. Our intellectuals discuss coldly the primitive quality of patriotism and its unexpected recrudescence in this world war. They talk of it in the jargon of social science as "group consciousness." Before I felt its fervor in the crisis of Italy's decision, in the sublime endurance of the French, I did not realize what patriotism might mean. It is not merely the instinctive love for the land of birth, loyalty to the known and familiar. Much more than that! The natal soil is but the symbol. Patriotism is human loyalty to the deeper, better part of one's own being, to the loves and the ideals and the beliefs of one's race. It is the love of family, of land, of tongue, of religion, of the woman who bore you and of the woman you get with child, of the God you reverence. It is loyalty to life as it has been poured into you by your forefathers, to those ideals which your race has conceived and given to the world. "Viva Italia!" "Vive la France!" is a prayer of the deepest, purest sort that the Italian or the Frenchman can breathe. Without these subconscious devotions and loyalties the human animal would be a forlorn complex of mind and sense. Those amorphous beings who, thanks to our modern economic wealth, have become "citizens of the world," who wander physically and intellectually from land to land, who taste of this and that without incorporating any supreme devotion in their blood, our cosmopolites and expatriates and intellectuals, froth of a too comfortable existence, give forth a hollow sound at the savage touch of war. They become pacifists. They can see neither good nor evil: all is a vague blur of "humanity."
Patriotism is the supreme loyalty to life of the individual. Wherever this loyalty is instinctive, vivid, there some precious tradition has been bequeathed to a people that still burns in their blood. Latin patriotism is ardent like man's one great love for woman, ennobling the giver as well as the loved one; it is tender like the son's love for the mother, with the sanctity of acknowledgment of the debt of life. Can any vision of "internationalism" take the place of these powerful personal loyalties to racial ideals?... "Mere boys led to the slaughter" is the sentimentality one hears of the marching conscripts of European armies. Better even so than the curse of no supreme allegiance, or devotion, or readiness to sacrifice—than the aimless selfishness in which our American youth are brought up!
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For every boy in Europe knows, as soon as he knows anything, that he owes one certain fixed debt, and that is service to his country, to that larger whole that has given him the best part of his own being. If need be, he owes it his life itself. It is an obligation he must fulfill before all other obligations, at no matter what inconvenience or sacrifice to himself, unquestioningly, immediately.
What takes the place for the American youth of this primary obligation? Himself! He is expensively nurtured, schooled, put forward into life—for what? To help himself as best he can at the general table of society. He can never forget himself, subordinate his personal ambition to any transcendent loyalty. He becomes from his cradle the egotist.
To-day under the shadow of world war we are taking thought of national protection, projecting schemes of defense including the enrollment of citizens who may be called upon to fight for their country. It is less important to teach our youth the military lessons of self-protection than it is to teach them the greater lesson of self-forgetfulness, of devotion to a national ideal—so that they may be ready to give their lives for that national ideal as the youth of Europe have given their lives to settle this world cause. Not a few hundreds of thousands of national guards, then, in order to secure ourselves from invasion are what we need, but that every man or woman born into the nation or adopting it as home should be made to feel the obligation of national service. It matters less what form that service should take, whether purely military or partly military and partly social. It is the service, the sense of obligation that counts for the individual and for the nation. The responsibility of service teaches the importance of ideas, the necessity of sacrifice. And he who is ready to sacrifice himself, to forget himself and become absorbed in the life that surrounds him, of which he is but an infinitesimal unit, to which he owes the best in him, has already achieved a larger peace than the pacifist dreams of.
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Consider what happened to the youth of France a little more than a year ago. Suddenly with no preparation or warning they were called to defend their country from invasion. It was no longer possible to argue the rights of that diplomatic tangle into which European statesmen had muddled. Whatever the ultimate truth, the ultimate right of the controversy, the state—that larger self which was their home, their mesh of loves and interests and beliefs—demanded their service. The youth of France had been brought up with the knowledge that any day such a sacrifice might be required, with the consciousness deeply rooted in their beings that one of the necessary conditions of their living was to give their all at the call of the state. They conceived of no honorable alternative: it was as inevitable to pay this obligation as it is for decently minded citizens to pay their legal debts. They hurried to their mobilization posts, donned uniforms and equipment, and were shipped away in regiments to the front. Most of them did not worry about the possibility of death, but acted like all healthy human beings, ignoring what they could not affect, caught up in the novelty and the requirements of the new life. Yet deep in the consciousness of the most careless must have lain some thought that he might never return, that the cross-marked grave on the hillside, the pit, or the hospital might be waiting for him.
This consciousness that he can no longer dispose of himself, at least for the finer spirit, must act as a great release. Having accepted his fate, and therefore willed it as the only possible choice for him, he becomes another person, a largely selfless person, a strangely older, calmer being capable of thinking and acting clearly, nobly. Once the great personal decision made, the resolve to forego life and happiness and personal achievement, a clogging burden of selfish considerations drop from within. So one can read the experience of those two young officers preserved in Henry Bordeaux's "Two Heroes." They were free as never before to do what lay before them,—their officers' duty,—simply, directly. Many things that they had previously valued seemed to have lost color, to have become trivial. They thought solely of acquitting themselves with, honor in what it was their fate to do. They were ready to obey because before death they were humble. They had begun to glimpse the blind mystery that is life, in which every one must needs act his part without questioning, with faith in its ultimate meaning, with the will to trust its end. They were brave because they were simple and single-hearted, selfless. They were strong because they disdained to be weak, having renounced all. If it were to be their fate to die unnoted, they were content with the satisfaction of having done what was expected of them. And if they died in glory, they were unaware of their honor, believing that they had done no more than any of their fellows would have done in the same opportunity.
Thus, having laid down their lives for the cause that commanded their faith and loyalty, they found their real lives—larger, more beautiful, stronger.... Not once, but many thousands of times, has this miracle happened! Their graves are strewn, singly and in groups, over every field of eastern France. They paid the debt, did their part little or great, unknown or glorified by men. Literally they have given their blood for the soil of their fathers' land.
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We know that they have given much more than their blood to that soil. Just as at the call to arms, the selfish, the mean, the vicious qualities of these lives dropped from them in the freedom of sacrifice accepted, and in place of egotistic preoccupations rose once more to the surface of their natures the ancient virtues of their race, so in their going they left for the others who lived, who were to be born, a tremendous legacy of honor and noble responsibility. By watering the soil with their blood they have made it infinitely more precious for every human being that treads upon it. They have helped to make mere life more significant for those who remain to mourn them. It can never again be quite the same commonplace affair, so lightly, cheaply spent, as it had been before. They have not left behind them joy, but faith. And that is why the faces of the earnest living who are able to realize this sacrifice of youth have a grave sternness in them which touches even the most careless stranger. Something of the glory created by the dead and the wounded radiates out even to us in a distant, peaceful land....
But why, we ask, all this sacrifice, this cruel, agonizing sacrifice of war? That is a mystery too deep for any to fathom. It is better not to probe too insistently, to accept it as the man in Rheims,—"It must be better for the others afterward because of what we have endured." That is the expression of faith in life which is the better part of any religion. For what we suffer now, for what we give now of our most precious, it will be repaid to those who are to come. Life will be freer, grander, more significant: it will be a better world. Nobody who has seen or felt the heavy tragedy of this world war could endure its horror if he were not sustained by that faith. But with that faith the losses seem not too vast. One by one the world's great decisions must be made, in suffering, in blood and tears. Peace comes not through evasion or compromise, either for the individual or for the state.