OUT TO WIN
THE STORY OF AMERICA IN FRANCE
AUTHOR OF "THE GLORY OF THE TRENCHES," "CARRY ON: LETTERS IN WARTIME," ETC.
NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY LONDON: JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD MCMXVIII
Copyright, 1918, BY JOHN LANE COMPANY
Press of J.J. Little & Ives Company New York, U.S.A.
MY AMERICAN FRIENDS AND BROTHERS-IN-ARMS THIS FRANK APPRECIATION OF THEIR EFFORT IN FRANCE IS DEDICATED
A PREFACE FOR FOOLS ONLY 9
"WE'VE GOT FOUR YEARS" 29
WAR AS A JOB 61
THE WAR OF COMPASSION 109
THE LAST WAR 196
A PREFACE FOR FOOLS ONLY
I am not writing this preface for the conscious fool, but for his self-deceived brother who considers himself a very wise person. My hope is that some persons may recognise themselves and be provided with food for thought. They will usually be people who have contributed little to this war, except mean views and endless talk. Had they shared the sacrifice of it, they would have developed within themselves the faculty for a wider generosity. The extraordinary thing about generosity is its eagerness to recognise itself in others.
You find these untravelled critics and mischief-makers on both sides of the Atlantic. In most cases they have no definite desire to work harm, but they have inherited cantankerous prejudices which date back to the American Revolution, and they lack the vision to perceive that this war, despite its horror and tragedy, is the God-given chance of centuries to re-unite the great Anglo-Saxon races of the world in a truer bond of kindness and kinship. If we miss this chance we are flinging in God's face His splendid recompense for our common heroism.
It is an unfortunate fact that the merely foolish person constitutes as grave a danger as the deliberate plotter. His words, if they are acid enough, are quoted and re-quoted. They pass from mouth to mouth, gaining in authority. By the time they reach the friendly country at which they are directed, they have taken on the appearance of an opinion representative of a nation. The Hun is well aware of the value of gossip for the encouraging of divided counsels among his enemies. He invents a slander, pins it to some racial grievance, confides it to the fools among the Allies and leaves them to do the rest. Some of them wander about in a merely private capacity, nagging without knowledge, depositing poison, breeding doubts as to integrity, and all the while pretending to maintain a mildly impartial and judicial mental attitude. Their souls never rise from the ground. Their brains are gangrenous with memories of cancelled malice. They suspect hero-worship; it smacks to them of sentiment. They examine, but never praise. Being incapable of sacrifice, they find something meretriciously melodramatic about men and nations who are capable. Had they lived nineteen hundred years ago, they would have haunted Calvary to discover fraud.
Then, there are others, by far more dangerous. These make their appearance daily in the morning press, thrusting their pessimisms across our breakfast tables, beleaguering our faith with ill-natured judgements and querulous warnings. One of our London Dailies, for instance, specializes in annoying America; it works as effectively to breed distrust as if its policy were dictated from Berlin.
I have just returned from a prolonged tour of America's activities in France. Wherever I went I heard nothing but unstinted appreciation of Great Britain's surpassing gallantry: "We never knew that you Britishers were what you are; you never told us. We had to come over here to find out." When that had been said I always waited, for I guessed the qualifying statement that would follow: "There's only one thing that makes us mad. Why the devil does your censor allow the P—— to sneer at us every morning? Your army doesn't feel that way towards us; at least, if it ever did, it doesn't now. Are there really people in England who—?"
At this point I would cut my questioner short: "There are men so short-sighted in every country that, to warm their hands, they would burn the crown of thorns. You have them in America. Such men are not representative."
The purpose of this book is to tell what America has done, is doing, and, on the strength of her splendid and accomplished facts, to plead for a closer friendship between my two countries. As an Englishman who has lived in the States for ten years and is serving with the Canadian Forces, I feel that I have a sympathetic understanding of the affections and aloofnesses of both nations; as a member of both families I claim the domestic right of indulging in a little plain speaking to each in turn.
In my appeal I leave the fighting men out of the question. Death is a universal teacher of charity. At the end of the war the men who survive will acknowledge no kinship save the kinship of courage. To have answered the call of duty and to have played the man, will make a closer bond than having been born of the same mother. At a New York theatre last October I met some French officers who had fought on the right of the Canadian Corps frontage at the Somme. We got to talking, commenced remembering, missed the entire performance and parted as old friends. In France I stayed with an American-Irish Division. They were for the most part American citizens in the second generation: few of them had been to Ireland. As frequently happens, they were more Irish than the Irish. They had learned from their parents the abuses which had driven them to emigrate, but had no knowledge of the reciprocal provocations which had caused the abuses. Consequently, when they sailed on their troop-ships for France they were anti-British almost to a man—many of them were theoretically Sinn Feiners. They were coming to fight for France and for Lafayette, who had helped to lick Britain—but not for the British. By the time I met them they were marvellously changed. They were going into the line almost any day and—this was what had worked the change—they had been trained for their ordeal by British N.C.O.'s and officers. They had swamped their hatred and inherited bitterness in admiration. Their highest hope was that they might do as well as the British. "They're men if you like," they said. In the imminence of death, their feeling for these old-timers, who had faced death so often, amounted to hero-worship. It was good to hear them deriding the caricature of the typical Briton, which had served in their mental galleries as an exact likeness for so many years. It was proof to me that men who have endured the same hell in a common cause will be nearer in spirit, when the war is ended, than they are to their own civilian populations. For in all belligerent countries there are two armies fighting—the military and the civilian; either can let the other down. If the civilian army loses its morale, its vision, its unselfishness, and allows itself to be out-bluffed by the civilian army of Germany, it as surely betrays its soldiers as if it joined forces with the Hun. We execute soldiers for cowardice; it's a pity that the same law does not govern the civilian army. There would be a rapid revision in the tone of more than one English and American newspaper. A soldier is shot for cowardice because his example is contagious. What can be more contagious than a panic statement or a doubt daily reiterated? Already there are many of us who have a kindlier feeling and certainly more respect for a Boche who fights gamely, than for a Britisher or American who bickers and sulks in comfort. Only one doubt as to ultimate victory ever assails the Western Front: that it may be attacked in the rear by the premature peace negotiations of the civil populations it defends. Should that ever happen, the Western Front would cease to be a mixture of French, Americans, Canadians, Australians, British and Belgians; it would become a nation by itself, pledged to fight on till the ideals for which it set out to fight are definitely established.
We get rather tired of reading speeches in which civilians presume that the making of peace is in their hands. The making may be, but the acceptance is in ours. I do not mean that we love war for war's sake. We love it rather less than the civilian does. When an honourable peace has been confirmed, there will be no stauncher pacifist than the soldier; but we reserve our pacifism till the war is won. We shall be the last people in Europe to get war-weary. We started with a vision—the achieving of justice; we shall not grow weary till that vision has become a reality. When one has faced up to an ultimate self-denial, giving becomes a habit. One becomes eager to be allowed to give all—to keep none of life's small change. The fury of an ideal enfevers us. We become fanatical to outdo our own best record in self-surrender. Many of us, if we are alive when peace is declared, will feel an uneasy reproach that perhaps we did not give enough.
This being the spirit of our soldiers, it is easy to understand their contempt for those civilians who go on strike, prate of weariness, scream their terror when a few Hun planes sail over London, devote columns in their papers to pin-prick tragedies of food-shortage, and cloud the growing generosity between England and America by cavilling criticisms and mean reflections. Their contempt is not that of the fighter for the man of peace; but the scorn of the man who is doing his duty for the shirker.
A Tommy is reading a paper in a muddy trench. Suddenly he scowls, laughs rather fiercely and calls to his pal, jerking his head as a sign to him to hurry. "'Ere Bill, listen to wot this 'ere cry-baby says. 'E thinks we're losin' the bloomin' war 'cause 'e didn't get an egg for breakfast. Losin' the war! A lot 'e knows abart it. A blinkin' lot 'e's done either to win or lose it. Yus, I don't think! Thank Gawd, we've none of 'is sort up front."
To men who have gazed for months with the eyes of visionaries on sudden death, it comes as a shock to discover that back there, where life is so sweetly certain, fear still strides unabashed. They had thought that fear was dead—stifled by heroism. They had believed that personal littleness had given way before the magnanimity of martyrdom.
In this plea, then, for a firmer Anglo-American friendship I address the civilian populations of both countries. The fate of such a friendship is in their hands. In the Eden of national destinies God is walking; yet there are those who bray their ancient grievances so loudly that they all but drown the sound of His footsteps.
Being an Englishman it will be more courteous to commence with the fools of my own flesh and blood. Let me paint a contrast.
Last October I sailed back from New York with a company of American officers; they consisted in the main of trained airmen, Navy experts and engineers. Before my departure the extraordinary sternness of America, her keenness to rival her allies in self-denial, her willing mobilisation of all her resources, had confirmed my optimism gained in the trenches, that the Allies must win; the mere thought of compromise was impossible and blasphemous. This optimism was enhanced on the voyage by the conduct of the officers who were my companions. They carried their spirit of dedication to an excess that was almost irksome. They refused to play cards. They were determined not to relax. Every minute they could snatch was spent in studying text-books. Their country had come into the war so late that they resented any moment lost from making themselves proficient. When expostulated with they explained themselves by saying, "When we've done our bit it will be time to amuse ourselves." They were dull company, but, in a time of war, inspiring. All their talk was of when they reached England. Their enthusiasm for the Britisher was such that they expected to be swept into a rarer atmosphere by the closer contact with heroism.
We had an Englishman with us—obviously a consumptive. He typified for them the doggedness of British pluck. He had been through the entire song and dance of the Mexican Revolution; a dozen times he had been lined up against a wall to be shot. From Mexico he had escaped to New York, hoping to be accepted by the British military authorities. Not unnaturally he had been rejected. The purpose of his voyage to the Old Country was to try his luck with the Navy. He held his certificate as a highly qualified marine engineer. No one could persuade him that he was not wanted. "I could last six months," he said, "it would be something. Heaps of chaps don't last as long."
This man, a crock in every sense, hurrying back to help his country, symbolised for every American aboard the unconquerable courage of Great Britain. If you hadn't the full measure of years to give, give what was left, even though it were but six months. I may add that in England his services were accepted. His persistence refused to be disregarded. When red-tape stopped his progress, he used back-stairs strategy. No one could bar him from his chance of serving.
In believing that he represented the Empire at its best, my Americans were not mistaken. There are thousands fighting to-day who share his example. One is an ex-champion sculler of Oxford; even in those days he was blind as a bat. His subsequent performance is consistent with his record; we always knew that he had guts. At the start of the war, he tried to enlist and was turned down on the score of eyesight. He tried four times with no better result. The fifth time he presented himself he was fool-proof; he had learnt the eyesight tests by heart. He went out a year ago as a "one pip artist"—a second lieutenant. Within ten months he had become a captain and was acting lieutenant-colonel of his battalion, all the other officers having been killed or wounded. At Cambrai he did such gallant work that he was personally congratulated by the general of his division. These American officers had heard such stories; they regarded England with a kind of worship. As men who hoped to be brave but were untested, they found something mystic and well-nigh incredible in such utter courage. The consumptive racing across the Atlantic that he might do something for England before death took him, made this spirit real to them.
We travelled to London as a party and there for a time we held together. The night before several set out for France, we had a farewell gathering. The consumptive, who had just obtained his commission, was in particularly high feather; he brought with him a friend, a civilian official in the Foreign Office. Please picture the group: all men who had come from distant parts of the world to do one job; men in the army, navy, and flying service; every one in uniform except the stranger.
Talk developed along the line of our absolute certainty as to complete and final victory. The civilian stranger commenced to raise his voice in dissent. We disputed his statements. He then set to work to run through the entire argument of pessimism: America was too far away to be effective; Russia was collapsing; France was exhausted; England had reached the zenith of her endeavour; Italy was not united in purpose. On every front he saw a black cloud rising and took a dyspeptic's delight in describing it as a little blacker than he saw it. There was an apostolic zeal about the man's dreary earnestness. He spoke with that air of authority which is not uncommon with civilian Government officials. The Americans stared rather than listened; this was not the mystic and utter courage which they had expected to find well-nigh incredible. Their own passion far out-topped it.
The argument reached a sudden climax. There were wounded officers present. One of them said, "You wouldn't speak that way if you had the foggiest conception of the kind of chaps we have in the trenches."
"It makes no difference what kind they are," the pessimist replied intolerantly. "I'm asking you to face facts. Because you've succeeded in an attack, you soldiers seem to think that the war is ended. You base your arguments all the time on your little local knowledge of your own particular front."
The discussion ceased abruptly. Every one sprang up. Voices strove together in advising this "facer of facts" to get into khaki and to go to where he could obtain precisely the same kind of little local knowledge—perhaps, a few wounds as well. His presence was dishonourable—contaminating. We filed out and left him sitting humped in a chair, looking puzzled and pathetic, murmuring, "But I thought I was among friends."
My last clear-cut recollection is of a chubby young American Naval Airman standing over him, with clenched fists, passionately instructing him in the spiritual geography of America. That's one type of fool; the type who specialises in catastrophe; the type who in eternally facing up to facts, takes no account of that magic quality, courage, which can make one man more terrible than an army; the type who is so profoundly well-informed, about externals, that he ignores the mightiness of soul that can remould externals to spiritual purposes. Were I a German, the spectacle of that solitary consumptive leaving the climate which meant life to him and hastening home to give just six months of service to his country, would be more menacing than the loss of an entire corps frontage.
And there's the type who can't forget; he suffers from a fundamental lack of generosity. The Englishman of this type can't refrain from quoting such phrases as, "Too proud to fight," whenever opportunity offers. His American counterpart insists that he is not fighting for Great Britain, but for the French. He makes himself offensive by silly talk about sister republics, implying that all other forms of Government are essentially tyrannic. He never loses an opportunity to mention Lafayette, assuming that one French man is worth ten Britishers. A very gross falsehood is frequently on the lips of this sort of man; he doesn't know where he picked it up and has never troubled to test its accuracy. I can tell him where it originated; at Berlin in the bureau for Hun propaganda. Every time he utters it he is helping the enemy. This falsehood is to the effect that Great Britain has conserved her man-power; that in the early days she let Frenchmen do the fighting and that now she is marking time till Americans are ready to die in her stead. This statement is so stupendously untrue that it goes unheeded by those who know the empty homes of England or have witnessed the gallantry of our piled-up dead.
Then there's the jealous fool—the fool who in England will see no reason why this book should have been published. His line of argument will be, "We've been in this war for more than three years. We've done everything that America is doing; because she's new to the game, we're doing it much better. We don't want any one to appreciate us, so why go praising her?" Precisely. Why be decent? Why seek out affections? Why be polite or kindly? Why not be automatons? I suppose the answer is, "Because we happen to be men, and are privileged temporarily to be playing in the role of heroes. The heroic spirit rather educates one to hold out the hand of friendship to new arrivals of the same sort."
There is one type of fool, exclusively American, whose stupidity arises from love and tenderness. Very often she is a woman. She has been responsible for the arrival in France of a number of narrow-minded and well-intentioned persons; their errand is to investigate vice-conditions in the U.S. Army. This suspicion of the women at home concerning the conduct of their men in the field, is directly traceable to reports of the debasing influences of war set in circulation by the anti-militarists. I want to say emphatically that cleaner, more earnest, better protected troops than those from the United States are not to be found in Europe. Both in Great Britain and on the Continent their puritanism has created a deep impression. By their idealism they have made their power felt; they are men with a vision in their eyes, who have travelled three thousand miles to keep a rendezvous with death. That those for whom they are prepared to die should suspect them is a degrading disloyalty. That trackers should be sent after them from home to pick up clues to their unworthiness is sheerly damnable. To disparage the heroism of other nations is bad enough; to distrust the heroes of your own flesh and blood, attributing to them lower than civilian moral standards, is to be guilty of the meanest treachery and ingratitude.
Here, then, are some of the sample fools to whom this preface is addressed. The list could be indefinitely lengthened. "The fool hath said in his heart, 'There is no God'." He says it in many ways and takes a long while in saying it; but the denying of God is usually the beginning and the end of his conversation. He denies the vision of God in his fellow-men and fellow-nations, even when the spikes of the cross are visibly tearing wounds in their feet and hands.
Life has swung back to a primitive decision since the war commenced. The decision is the same for both men and nations. They can choose the world or achieve their own souls. They can cast mercenary lots for the raiment of a crucified righteousness or take up their martyrdom as disciples. Those men and nations who have been disciples together can scarcely fail to remain friends when the tragedy is ended. What the fool says in his heart at this present is not of any lasting importance. There will always be those who mock, offering vinegar in the hour of agony and taunting, "If thou be what thou sayest...." But in the comradeship of the twilit walk to Emmaus neither the fool nor the mocker are remembered.
OUT TO WIN
"WE'VE GOT FOUR YEARS"
The American Troops have set words to one of their bugle calls. These words are indicative of their spirit—of the calculated determination with which they have faced up to their adventure: an adventure unparalleled for magnitude in the history of their nation.
They fall in in two ranks. They tell off from the right in fours. "Move to the right in fours. Quick March," comes the order. The bugles strike up. The men swing into column formation, heads erect and picking up the step. To the song of the bugles they chant words as they march. "We've got four years to do this job. We've got four years to do this job."
That is the spirit of America. Her soldiers give her four years, but to judge from the scale of her preparations she might be planning for thirty.
America is out to win. I write this opening sentence in Paris where I am temporarily absent from my battery, that I may record the story of America's efforts in France. My purpose is to prove with facts that America is in the war to her last dollar, her last man, and for just as long as Germany remains unrepentant. Her strength is unexpended, her spirit is un-war-weary. She has a greater efficient man-power for her population than any nation that has yet entered the arena of hostilities. Her resources are continental rather than national; it is as though a new and undivided Europe had sprung to arms in moral horror against Germany. She has this to add fierceness to her soul—the reproach that she came in too late. That reproach is being wiped out rapidly by the scarlet of self-imposed sacrifice. She did come in late—for that very reason she will be the last of Germany's adversaries to withdraw.
She did not want to come in at all. Many of her hundred million population emigrated to her shores out of hatred of militarism and to escape from just such a hell as is now raging in Europe. At first it seemed a far cry from Flanders to San Francisco. Philanthropy could stretch that far, but not the risking of human lives. Moreover, the American nation is not racially a unit; it is bound together by its ideal quest for peaceful and democratic institutions. It was a difficult task for any government to convince so remote a people that their destiny was being made molten in the furnace of the Western Front; when once that truth was fully apprehended the diverse souls of America leapt up as one soul and declared for war. In so doing the people of the United States forewent the freedom from fear that they had gained by their journey across the Atlantic; they turned back in their tracks to smite again with renewed strength and redoubled hate the old brutal Fee-Fo-Fum of despotism, from whose clutches they thought they had escaped.
America's is the case of The Terrible Meek; for two and a half years she lulled Germany and astonished the Allies by her abnormal patience. The most terrifying warriors of history have been peace-loving nations hounded into hostility by outraged ideals. Certainly no nation was ever more peace-loving than the American. To the boy of the Middle West the fury of kings must have read like a fairy-tale. The appeal to armed force was a method of compelling righteousness which his entire training had taught him to view with contempt as obsolete. Yet never has any nation mobilised its resources more efficiently, on so titanic a scale, in so brief a space of time to re-establish justice with armed force. The outraged ideal which achieved this miracle was the denial by the Hun of the right of every man to personal liberty and happiness.
Few people guessed that America would fling her weight so utterly into the winning of the Allied cause. Those who knew her best thought it scarcely possible. Germany, who believed she knew her, thought it least of all. German statesmen argued that America had too much to lose by such a decision—too little to gain; the task of transporting men and materials across three thousand miles of ocean seemed insuperable; the differing traditions of her population would make it impossible for her to concentrate her will in so unusual a direction. Basing their arguments on a knowledge of the deep-seated selfishness of human nature, Hun statesmen were of the fixed opinion that no amount of insult would compel America to take up the sword.
Two and a half years before, those same statesmen made the same mistake with regard to Great Britain and her Dominions. The British were a race of shop-keepers; no matter how chivalrous the call, nothing would persuade them to jeopardise their money-bags. If they did for once leap across their counters to become Sir Galahads, then the Dominions would seize that opportunity to secure their own base safety and to fling the Mother Country out of doors. The British gave these students of selfishness a surprise from which their military machine has never recovered, when the "Old Contemptibles" held up the advance of the Hun legions and won for Europe a breathing-space. The Dominions gave them a second lesson in magnanimity when Canada's lads built a wall with their bodies to block the drive at Ypres. America refuted them for the third time, when she proved her love of world-liberty greater than her affection for the dollar, bugling across the Atlantic her shrill challenge to mailed bestiality. Germany has made the grave mistake of estimating human nature at its lowest worth as she sees it reflected in her own face. In every case, in her judgment of the two great Anglo-Saxon races, she has been at fault through over-emphasising their capacity for baseness and under-estimating their capacity to respond to an ideal. It was an ideal that led the Pilgrim Fathers westward; after more than two hundred years it is an ideal which pilots their sons home again, racing through danger zones in their steel-built greyhounds that they may lay down their lives in France.
In view of the monumental stupidity of her diplomacy Germany has found it necessary to invent explanations. The form these have taken as regards America has been the attributing of fresh low motives. Her object at first was to prove to the world at large how very little difference America's participation in hostilities would make. When America tacitly negatived this theory by the energy with which she raised billions and mobilised her industries, Hun propagandists, by an ingenious casuistry, spread abroad the opinion that these mighty preparations were a colossal bluff which would redound to Germany's advantage. They said that President Wilson had bided his time so that his country might strut as a belligerent for only the last six months, and so obtain a voice in the peace negotiations. He did not intend that America should fight, and was only getting his armies ready that they might enforce peace when the Allies were exhausted and already counting on Americans manning their trenches. Inasmuch as his country would neither have sacrificed nor died, he would be willing to give Germany better terms; therefore America's apparent joining of the Allies was a camouflage which would turn out an advantage to Germany. This lie, with variations, has spread beyond the Rhine and gained currency in certain of the neutral nations.
Four days after President Wilson's declaration of war the Canadians captured Vimy Ridge. As the Hun prisoners came running like scared rabbits through the shell-fire, we used to question them as to conditions on their side of the line. Almost the first question that was asked was, "What do you think about the United States?" By far the most frequent reply was, "We have submarines; the United States will make no difference." The answer was so often in the same formula that it was evident the men had been schooled in the opinion. It was only the rare man of education who said, "It is bad—very bad; the worst mistake we have made."
We, in the front-line, were very far from appreciating America's decision at its full value. For a year we had had the upper-hand of the Hun. To use the language of the trenches, we knew that we could go across No Man's Land and "beat him up" any time we liked. To tell the truth, many of us felt a little jealous that when, after two years of punishment, we had at last become top-dog, we should be called upon to share the glory of victory with soldiers of the eleventh hour. We believed that we were entirely capable of finishing the job without further aid. My own feeling, as an Englishman living in New York, was merely one of relief—that now, when war was ended, I should be able to return to friends of whom I need not be ashamed. To what extent America's earnestness has changed that sentiment is shown by the expressed desire of every Canadian, that if Americans are anywhere on the Western Front, they ought to be next to us in the line. "They are of our blood," we say; "they will carry on our record." Only those who have had the honour to serve with the Canadian Corps and know its dogged adhesion to heroic traditions, can estimate the value of this compliment.
I should say that in the eyes of the combatant, after President Wilson, Mr. Ford has done more than any other one man to interpret the spirit of his nation; our altered attitude towards him typifies our altered attitude towards America. Mr. Ford, the impassioned pacifist, sailing to Europe in his ark of peace, staggered our amazement. Mr. Ford, still the impassioned pacifist, whose aeroplane engines will help to bomb the Hun's conscience into wakefulness, staggers our amazement but commands our admiration. We do not attempt to understand or reconcile his two extremes of conduct, but as fighters we appreciate the courage of soul that made him "about turn" to search for his ideal in a painful direction when the old friendly direction had failed. Here again it is significant that both with regard to individuals and nations, Germany's sternest foes are war-haters—war-haters to such an extent that their principles at times have almost shipwrecked their careers. In England our example is Lloyd George. Throughout the Anglo-Saxon world the slumbering spirit of Cromwell's Ironsides has sprung to life, reminding the British Empire and the United States of their common ancestry. After a hundred and forty years of drifting apart, we stand side by side like our forefathers, the fighting pacifists at Naseby; like them, having failed to make men good with words, we will hew them into virtue with the sword.
At the end of June I went back to Blighty wounded. One of my most vivid recollections of the time that followed is an early morning in July; it must have been among the first of the days that I was allowed out of hospital. London was green and leafy. The tracks of the tramways shone like silver in the sunlight. There was a spirit of release and immense good humour abroad. My course followed the river on the south side, all a-dance with wind and little waves. As I crossed the bridge at Westminster I became aware of an atmosphere of expectation. Subconsciously I must have been noticing it for some time. Along Whitehall the pavements were lined with people, craning their necks, joking and jostling, each trying to better his place. Trafalgar Square was jammed with a dense mass of humanity, through which mounted police pushed their way solemnly, like beadles in a vast unroofed cathedral. Then for the first time I noticed what I ought to have noticed long before, that the Stars and Stripes were exceptionally prevalent. Upon inquiry I was informed that this was the day on which the first of the American troops were to march. I picked up with a young officer or the Dublin Fusiliers and together we forced our way down Pall Mall to the office of The Cecil Rhodes Oxford Scholars' Foundation. From here we could watch the line of march from Trafalgar Square to Marlborough House. While we waited, I scanned the group-photographs on the walls, some of which contained portraits of German Rhodes Scholars with whom I had been acquainted. I remembered how they had always spent their vacations in England, assiduously bicycling to the most unexpected places. In the light of later developments I thought I knew the reason.
Suddenly, far away bands struck up. We thronged the windows, leaning out that we might miss nothing. Through the half mile of people that stretched between us and the music a shudder of excitement was running. Then came cheers—the deep-throated babel of men's voices and the shrill staccato of women's. "They're coming," some one cried; then I saw them.
I forget which regiment lead. The Coldstreams were there, the Scotch and Welsh Guards, the Irish Guards with their saffron kilts and green ribbons floating from their bag-pipes. A British regimental band marched ahead of each American regiment to do it honour. Down the sunlit canyon of Pall Mall they swung to the tremendous cheering of the crowd. Quite respectable citizens had climbed lamp-posts and railings, and were waving their hats. I caught the words that were being shouted, "Are we downhearted?" Then, in a fierce roar of denial, "No!" It was a wonderful ovation—far more wonderful than might have been expected from a people who had grown accustomed to the sight of troops during the last three years. The genuineness of the welcome was patent; it was the voice of England that was thundering along the pavements.
I was anxious to see the quality of the men which America had sent. They drew near; then I saw them plainly. They were fine strapping chaps, broad of shoulder and proudly independent. They were not soldiers yet; they were civilians who had been rushed into khaki. Their equipment was of every kind and sort and spoke eloquently of the hurry in which they had been brought together. That meant much to us in London-much more than if they had paraded with all the "spit and polish" of the crack troops who led them. It meant to us that America was doing her bit at the earliest date possible.
The other day, here in France, I met an officer of one of those battalions; he told me the Americans' side of the story. They were expert railroad troops, picked out of civilian life and packed off to England without any pretence at military training. When they were informed that they were to be the leading feature in a London procession, many of them even lacked uniforms. With true American democracy of spirit, the officers stripped their rank-badges from their spare tunics and lent them to the privates, who otherwise could not have marched.
"I'm satisfied," my friend said, "that there were Londoners so doggone hoarse that night that they couldn't so much as whisper."
What impressed the men most of all was the King's friendly greeting of them at Buckingham Palace. There were few of them who had ever seen a king before. "Friendly—that's the word! From the King downwards they were all so friendly. It was more like a family party than a procession; and on the return journey, when we marched at ease, old ladies broke up our formations to kiss us. Nice and grandmotherly of them we thought."
This, as I say, I learnt later in France; at the time I only knew that the advance-guard of millions was marching. As I watched them my eyes grew misty. Troops who have already fought no longer stir me; they have exchanged their dreams of glory for the reality of sacrifice—they know to what they may look forward. But untried troops have yet to be disillusioned; dreams of the pomp of war are still in their eyes. They have not yet owned that they are merely going out to die obscurely.
That day made history. It was then that England first vividly realised that America was actually standing shoulder to shoulder at her side. In making history it obliterated almost a century and a half of misunderstanding. I believe I am correct in saying that the last foreign troops to march through London were the Hessians, who fought against America in the Revolution, and that never before had foreign volunteers marched through England save as conquerors.
On my recovery I was sent home on sick leave and spent a month in New York. No one who has not been there since America joined the Allies can at all realise the change that has taken place. It is a change of soul, which no statistics of armaments can photograph. America has come into the war not only with her factories, her billions and her man-power, but with her heart shining in her eyes. All her spread-eagleism is gone. All her aggressive industrial ruthlessness has vanished. With these has been lost her youthful contempt for older civilisations, whom she was apt to regard as decaying because they sent her emigrants. She has exchanged her prejudices for admiration and her grievances for kindness. Her "Hats off" attitude to France, England, Belgium and to every nation that has shed blood for the cause which now is hers, was a thing which I had scarcely expected; it was amazing. As an example of how this attitude is being interpreted into action, school-histories throughout the United States are being re-written, so that American children of the future may be trained in friendship for Great Britain, whereas formerly stress was laid on the hostilities of the eighteenth century which produced the separation. As a further example, many American boys, who for various reasons were not accepted by the military authorities in their own country, have gone up to Canada to join.
One such case is typical. Directly it became evident that America was going into the war, one boy, with whom I am acquainted, made up his mind to be prepared to join. He persuaded his father to allow him to go to a Flying School to train as a pilot. Having obtained his certificate, he presented himself for enlistment and was turned down on the ground that he was lacking in a sense of equipoise. Being too young for any other branch of the service, he persuaded his family to allow him to try his luck in Canada. Somehow, by hook or by crook, he had to get into the war. The Royal Flying Corps accepted him with the proviso that he must take out his British naturalisation papers. This changing of nationality was a most bitter pill for his family to swallow. The boy had done his best to be a soldier; he was the eldest son, and there they would willingly have had the matter rest. Moreover they could compel the matter to rest there, for, being under age, he could not change his nationality without his father's consent. It was his last desperate argument that turned the decision in his favour, "If it's a choice between my honour and my country, I choose my honour every time." So now he's a Britisher, learning "spit and polish" and expecting to bring down a Hun almost any day.
One noticed in almost the smallest details how deeply America had committed her conscience to her new undertaking. While in England we grumble about a food-control which is absolutely necessary to our preservation, America is voluntarily restricting herself not for her own sake, but for the sake of the Allies. They say that they are being "Hooverized," thus coining a new word out of Mr. Hoover's name. Sometimes these Hooverish practices produce contrasts which are rather quaint. I went to stay with a friend who had just completed as his home an exact reproduction of a palace in Florence. Whoever went short, there was little that he could not afford. At our meals I noticed that I was the only person who was served with butter and sugar, and enquired why. "It's all right for you," I was told; "you're a soldier; but if we eat butter and sugar, some of the Allies who really need them will have to go short." A small illustration, but one that is typical of a national, sacrificial, underlying thought.
Later I met with many instances of the various forms in which this thought is taking shape. I was in America when the Liberty War Loan was so amazingly over-subscribed. I saw buses, their roofs crowded with bands and orators, doing the tour of street-corners. Every store of any size, every railroad, every bank and financial corporation had set for its employes and customers the ideal sum which it considered that they personally ought to subscribe. This ideal sum was recorded on the face of a clock, hung outside the building. As the gross amount actually collected increased, the hands were seen to revolve. Everything that eloquence and ingenuity could devise was done to gather funds for the war. Big advertisers made a gift of their newspaper space to the nation. There were certain public-spirited men who took up blocks of war-bonds, making the request that no interest should be paid. You went to a theatre; during the interval actors and actresses sold war-certificates, harangued the audience and set the example by their own purchases.
When the Liberty War Loan had been raised, the Red Cross started its great national drive, apportioning the necessary grand total among all the cities from sea-board to sea-board, according to their wealth and population.
One heard endless stories of the variety of efforts being made. America had committed her heart to the Allies with an abandon which it is difficult to describe. Young society girls, who had been brought up in luxury and protected from ugliness all their lives, were banding themselves into units, supplying the money, hiring the experts, and coming over themselves to France to look after refugees' babies. Others were planning to do reconstruction work in the devastated districts immediately behind the battle-line. I met a number of these enthusiasts before they sailed; I have since seen them at work in France. What struck me at the time was their rose-leaf frailness and utter unsuitability for the task. I could guess the romantic visions which tinted their souls to the colour of sacrifice; I also knew what refugees and devastated districts look like. I feared that the discrepancy between the dream and the reality would doom them to disillusion.
During the month that I was in America I visited several of the camps. The first draft army had been called. The first call gave the country seven million men from which to select. I was surprised to find that in many camps, before military training could commence, schools in English had to be started to ensure the men's proper understanding of commands. This threw a new light on the difficulties Mr. Wilson had had to face in coming into the war.
The men of the draft army represent as many nationalities, dialects and race-prejudices as there are in Europe. They are a Europe expatriated. During their residence in America a great many of them have lived in communities where their own language is spoken, and their own customs are maintained. Frequently they have their own newspapers, which foster their national exclusiveness, and reflect the hatreds and affections of the country from which they emigrated. These conditions set up a barrier between them and current American opinion which it was difficult for the authorities at Washington to cross. The people who represented neutral European nations naturally were anxious for the neutrality of America. The people who represented the Central Powers naturally were against America siding with the Allies. The only way of re-directing their sympathies was by means of education and propaganda; this took time, especially when they were separated from the truth by the stumbling block of language. For three years they had to be persuaded that they were no longer Poles, Swedes, Germans, Finns, Norwegians, but first and last Americans. I mention this here, in connection with the teaching of the draft army English, because it affords one of the most vivid and comprehensible reasons for America's long delay.
What brought America into the war? I have often been asked the question; in answering it I always feel that I am giving only a partial answer. On the one hand there is the record of her two and a half years of procrastination, on the other the titanic upspringing of her warrior-spirit, which happened almost in a day. How can one reconcile the multitudinous pacific notes which issued from Washington with the bugle-song to which the American boys march: "We've got four years to do this job." The cleavage between the two attitudes is too sharp for the comprehension of other nations.
The first answer which I shall give is entirely sane and will be accepted by the rankest cynic. America came into the war at the moment she realised that her own national life was endangered. Her leaders realised this months before her masses could be persuaded. The political machinery of the United States is such that no Government would dare to commence hostilities unless it was assured that its decision was the decision of the entire nation. That the Government might have this assurance, Mr. Wilson had to maintain peace long after the intellect of America had declared for war, while he educated the cosmopolitan citizenship of his country into a knowledge of Hun designs. The result was that he created the appearance of having been pushed into hostilities by the weight of public opinion.
For many months the Secret Service agents of the States, aided by the agents of other nations, were unravelling German plots and collecting data of treachery so irrefutable that it had to be accepted. When all was ready the first chapters of the story were divulged. They were divulged almost in the form of a serial novel, so that the man who read his paper to-day and said, "No doubt that isolated item is true, but it doesn't incriminate the entire German nation," next day on opening his paper, found further proof and was forced to retreat to more ingenious excuses. One day he was informed of Germany's abuse of neutral embassies and mail-bags; the next of the submarine bases in Mexico, prepared as a threat against American shipping; the day after that the whole infamous story of how Berlin had financed the Mexican Revolution. Germany's efforts to provoke an American-Japanese war leaked out, her attempts to spread disloyalty among German-Americans, her conspiracies for setting fire to factories and powder-plants, including the blowing up of bridges and the Welland Canal. Quietly, circumstantially, without rancour, the details were published of the criminal spider-web woven by the Dernburgs, Bernstorffs and Von Papens, accredited creatures of the Kaiser, who with Machiavellian smiles had professed friendship for those whom their hands itched to slay and strangle. Gradually the camouflage of bovine geniality was lifted from the face of Germany and the dripping fangs of the Blonde Beast were displayed—the Minotaur countenance of one glutted with human flesh, weary with rape and rapine, but still tragically insatiable and lusting for the new sensation of hounding America to destruction.
I have not placed these revelations in their proper sequence; some were made after war had been declared. They had the effect of changing every decent American into a self-appointed detective. The weight of evidence put Germany's perfidy beyond dispute; clues to new and endless chains of machinations were discovered daily. The Hun had come as a guest into America's house with only one intent—to do murder as soon as the lights were out.
The anger which these disclosures produced knew no bounds. Hun apologists—the type of men who invariably believe that there is a good deal to be said on both sides—quickly faded into patriots. There had been those who had cried out for America's intervention from the first day that Belgium's neutrality had been violated. Many of these, losing patience, had either enlisted in Canada or were already in France on some errand of mercy. Their cry had reached Washington at first only as a whisper, very faint and distant. Little by little that cry had swelled, till it became the nation's voice, angry, insistent, not to be disregarded. The most convinced humanitarian, together with the sincerest admirer of the old-fashioned kindly Hans, had to join in that cry or brand himself a traitor by his silence.
America came into the war, as every country came, because her life was threatened. She is not fighting for France, Great Britain, Belgium, Serbia; she is fighting to save herself. I am glad to make this point because I have heard camouflaged Pro-Germans and thoughtless mischief-makers discriminating between the Allies. "We are not fighting for Great Britain," they say, "but for plucky France." When I was in New York last October a firm stand was being made against these discriminators; some of them even found themselves in the hands of the Secret Service men. The feeling was growing that not to be Pro-British was not to be Pro-Ally, and that not to be Pro-Ally was to be anti-American. This talk of fighting for somebody else is all lofty twaddle. America is fighting for America. While the statement is perfectly true, Americans have a right to resent it.
In September, 1914, I crossed to Holland and was immensely disgusted at the interpretation of Great Britain's action which I found current there. I had supposed that Holland would be full of admiration; I found that she was nothing of the sort. We Britishers, in those early days, believed that we were magnanimous big brothers who could have kept out of the bloodshed, but preferred to die rather than see the smaller nations bullied. Men certainly did not join Kitchener's mob because they believed that England's life was threatened. I don't believe that any strong emotion of patriotism animated Canada in her early efforts. The individual Briton donned the khaki because he was determined to see fair play, and was damned if he would stand by a spectator while women and children were being butchered in Belgium. He felt that he had to do something to stop it. If he didn't, the same thing would happen in Holland, then in Denmark, then in Norway. There was no end to it. When a mad dog starts running the best thing to do is to shoot it.
But the Hollanders didn't agree with me at all. "You're fighting for yourselves," they said. "You're not fighting to save us from being invaded; you're not fighting to prevent the Hun from conquering France; you're not fighting to liberate Belgium. You're fighting because you know that if you let France be crushed, it will be your turn next."
Quite true—and absolutely unjust. The Hollander, whose households we were guarding, chose to interpret our motive at its most ignoble worth. Our men were receiving in their bodies the wounds which would have been inflicted on Holland, had we elected to stand out. In the light of subsequent events, all the world acknowledges that we were and are fighting for our own households; but it is a glorious certainty that scarcely a Britisher who died in those early days had the least realisation of the fact. It was the chivalrous vision of a generous Crusade that led our chaps from their firesides to the trampled horror that is Flanders. They said farewell to their habitual affections, and went out singing to their marriage with death.
I suppose there has been no war that could not be interpreted ultimately as a war of self-interest. The statesmen who make wars always carefully reckon the probabilities of loss or gain; but the lads who kiss their sweethearts good-bye require reasons more vital than those of pounds, shillings and pence. Few men lay down their lives from self-interested motives. Courage is a spiritual quality which requires a spiritual inducement. Men do not set a price on their chance of being blown to bits by shells. Even patriotism is too vague to be a sufficient incentive. The justice of the cause to be fought for helps; it must be proportionate to the magnitude of the sacrifice demanded. But always an ideal is necessary—an ideal of liberty, indignation and mercy. If this is true of the men who go out to die, it is even more true of the women who send them,
"Where there're no children left to pull The few scared, ragged flowers— All that was ours, and, God, how beautiful! All, all that was once ours, Lies faceless, mouthless, mire to mire, So lost to all sweet semblance of desire That we, in those fields seeking desperately One face long-lost to love, one face that lies Only upon the breast of Memory, Would never find it—even the very blood Is stamped into the horror of the mud— Something that mad men trample under-foot In the narrow trench—for these things are not men— Things shapeless, sodden, mute Beneath the monstrous limber of the guns; Those things that loved us once... Those that were ours, but never ours again."
For two and a half years the American press specialized on the terror aspect of the European hell. Every sensational, exceptional fact was not only chronicled, but widely circulated. The bodily and mental havoc that can be wrought by shell fire was exaggerated out of all proportion to reality. Photographs, almost criminal in type, were published to illustrate the brutal expression of men who had taken part in bayonet charges. Lies were spread broadcast by supposedly reputable persons, stating how soldiers had to be maddened with drugs or alcohol before they would go over the top. Much of what was recorded was calculated to stagger the imagination and intimidate the heart. The reason for this was that the supposed eye-witnesses rarely saw what they recorded. They had usually never been within ten miles of the front, for only combatants are allowed in the line. They brought civilian minds, undisciplined to the conquest of fear, to their task; they never for one instant guessed the truly spiritual exaltation which gives wings to the soul of the man who fights in a just cause. Squalor, depravity, brutalisation, death—moral, mental and physical deformity were the rewards which the American public learned the fighting man gained in the trenches. They heard very little of the capacity for heroism, the eagerness for sacrifice, the gallant self-effacement which having honor for a companion taught. And yet, despite this frantic portrayal of terror, America decided for war. Her National Guard and Volunteers rolled up in millions, clamouring to cross the three thousand miles of water that they might place their lives in jeopardy. They were no more urged by motives of self-interest than were the men who enlisted in Kitchener's mob. It wasn't the threat to their national security that brought them; it was the lure of an ideal—the fine white knightliness of men whose compassion had been tormented and whose manhood had been challenged. When one says that America came into the war to save herself it is only true of her statesmen; it is no more true of her masses than it was true of the masses of Great Britain.
So far, in my explanation as to why America came into the war, I have been scarcely more generous in the attributing of magnanimous motives than my Hollander. To all intents and purposes I have said, "America is fighting because she knows that if the Allies are over-weakened or crushed, it will be her turn next." In discussing the matter with me, one of our Generals said, "I really don't see that it matters a tuppenny cuss why she's fighting, so long as she helps us to lick the Hun and does it quickly." But it does matter. The reasons for her having taken up arms make all the difference to our respect for her. Here, then, are the reasons which I attribute: enthusiasm for the ideals of the Allies; admiration for the persistency of their heroism; compassionate determination to borrow some of the wounds which otherwise would be inflicted upon nations which have already suffered. A small band of pioneers in mercy are directly responsible for this change of attitude in two and a half years from opportunistic neutrality to a reckless welcoming of martyrdom.
At the opening of hostilities in 1914, America divided herself into two camps—the Pro-Allies and the others. "The others" consisted of people of all shades of opinion and conviction: the anti-British, anti-French, the pro-German, the anti-war and the merely neutral, some of whom set feverishly to work to make a tradesman's advantage out of Europe's misfortune. A great traffic sprang up in the manufacture of war materials. Almost all of these went to the Allies, owing to the fact that Britain controlled the seas. Whether they would not have been sold just as readily to Germany, had that been possible, is a matter open to question. In any case, the camp of "The Others" was overwhelmingly in the majority.
One by one, and in little protesting bands, the friends of the Allies slipped overseas bound on self-imposed, sacrificial quests. They went like knight-errants to the rescue; while others suffered, their own ease was intolerable. The women, whom they left, formed themselves into groups for the manufacture of the munitions of mercy. There were men like Alan Seeger, who chanced to be in Europe when war broke out; many of these joined up with the nearest fighting units. "I have a rendezvous with death," were Alan Seeger's last words as he fell mortally wounded between the French and German trenches. His voice was the voice of thousands who had pledged themselves to keep that rendezvous in the company of Britishers, Belgians and Frenchmen, long before their country had dreamt of committing herself. Some of these friends of the Allies chose the Ford Ambulance, others positions in the Commission for the Relief of Belgium, and yet others the more forceful sympathy of the bayonet as a means of expressing their wrath. Soon, through the heart of France, with the tricolor and the Stars and Stripes flying at either end, "le train Americaine" was seen hurrying, carrying its scarlet burden. This sight could hardly be called neutral unless a similar sight could be seen in Germany. It could not. The Commission for the Relief of Belgium was actually anything but neutral; to minister to the results of brutality is tacitly to condemn.
At Neuilly-sur-Seine the American Ambulance Hospital sprang up. It undertook the most grievous cases, making a specialty of facial mutilations. American girls performed the nursing of these pitiful human wrecks. Increasingly the crusader spirit was finding a gallant response in the hearts of America's girlhood. By the time that President Wilson flung his challenge, eighty-six war relief organizations were operating in France. In very many cases these organizations only represented a hundredth part of the actual personnel working; the other ninety-nine hundredths were in the States, rolling bandages, shredding oakum, slitting linen, making dressings. Long before April, 1917, American college boys had won a name by their devotion in forcing their ambulances over shell torn roads on every part of the French Front, but, perhaps, with peculiar heroism at Verdun. Already the American Flying Squadron has earned a veteran's reputation for its daring. The report of the sacrificial courage of these pioneers had travelled to every State in the Union; their example had stirred, shamed and educated the nation. It is to these knight-errants—very many of them boys and girls in years—to the Mrs. Whartons, the Alan Seegers, the Hoovers and the Thaws that I attribute America's eager acceptance of Calvary, when at last it was offered to her by her Statesmen. From an anguished horror to be repelled, war had become a spiritual Eldorado in whose heart lay hidden the treasure-trove of national honor.
The individual American soldier is inspired by just as altruistic motives as his brother-Britisher. Compassion, indignation, love of justice, the determination to see right conquer are his incentives. You can make a man a conscript, drill him, dress him in uniform, but you cannot force him to face up to four years to do his job unless the ideals were there beforehand. I have seen American troop-ships come into the dock with ten thousand men singing,
"Good-bye, Liza, I'm going to smash the Kaiser."
I have been present when packed audiences have gone mad in reiterating the American equivalent for Tipperary, with its brave promise,
"We'll be over, We're coming over, And we won't be back till it's over, over there."
But nothing I have heard so well expresses the cold anger of the American fighting-man as these words which they chant to their bugle-march, "We've got four years to do this job."
WAR AS A JOB
I have been so fortunate as to be able to watch three separate nations facing up to the splendour of Armageddon—England, France, America. The spirit of each was different. I arrived in England from abroad the week after war had been declared. There was a new vitality in the air, a suppressed excitement, a spirit of youth and—it sounds ridiculous—of opportunity. The England I had left had been wont to go about with a puckered forehead; she was a victim of self-disparagement. She was like a mother who had borne too many children and was at her wits' end to know how to feed or manage them. They were getting beyond her control. Since the Boer War there had been a growing tendency in the Press to under-rate all English effort and to over-praise to England's discredit the superior pushfulness of other nations. This melancholy nagging which had for its constant text, "Wake up, John Bull," had produced the hallucination that there was something vitally the matter with the Mother Country. No one seemed to have diagnosed her complaint, but those of us who grew weary of being told that we were behind the times, took prolonged trips to more cheery quarters of the globe. It is the Englishman's privilege to run himself down; he usually does it with his tongue in his cheek. But for the ten years preceding the outbreak of hostilities, the prophets of Fleet Street certainly carried their privilege beyond a joke. Pessimism was no longer an amusing pose; it was becoming a habit.
One week of the iron tonic of war had changed all that. The atmosphere was as different as the lowlands from the Alps; it was an atmosphere of devil-may-care assurance and adventurous manhood. Every one had the summer look of a boat-race crowd when the Leander is to be pulled off at Henley. In comparing the new England with the old, I should have said that every one now had the comfortable certainty that he was wanted—that he had a future and something to live for. But it wasn't the something to live for that accounted for this gay alertness; it was the sure foreknowledge of each least important man that he had something worth dying for at last.
A strange and magnificent way of answering misfortune's challenge—an Elizabethan way, the knack of which we believed we had lost! "Business as usual" was written across our doorways. It sounded callous and unheeding, but at night the lads who had written it there, tiptoed out and stole across the Channel, scarcely whispering for fear they should break our hearts by their going.
Death may be regarded as a funeral or as a Columbus expedition to worlds unknown—it may be seized upon as an opportunity for weeping or for a display of courage. From the first day in her choice England never hesitated; like a boy set free from school, she dashed out to meet her danger with laughter. Her high spirits have never failed her. Her cavalry charge with hunting-calls upon their lips. Her Tommies go over the top humming music-hall ditties. The Hun is still "jolly old Fritz." The slaughter is still "a nice little war." Death is still "the early door." The mud-soaked "old Bills" of the trenches, cheerfully ignoring vermin, rain and shell fire, continue to wind up their epistles with, "Hoping this finds you in the pink, as it leaves me at present." They are always in the pink for epistolary purposes, whatever the strafing or the weather. That's England; at all costs, she has to be a sportsman. I wonder she doesn't write on the crosses above her dead, "Yours in the pink: a British soldier, killed in action." England is in the pink for the duration of the war.
The Frenchman cannot understand us, and I don't blame him. Our high spirits impress him as untimely and indecent. War for him is not a sport. How could it be, with his homesteads ravaged, his cities flattened, his women violated, his populations prisoners in occupied territories? For him war is a martyrdom which he embraces with a fierce gladness. His spirit is well illustrated by an incident that happened the other day in Paris. A descendant of Racine, a well-known figure at the opera, was travelling in the Metro when he spotted a poilu with a string of ten medals on his breast. The old aristocrat went over to the soldier and apologised for speaking to him. "But," he said, "I have never seen any poilu with so many decorations. You must be of the very bravest."
"That is nothing," the man replied sombrely; "before they kill me I shall have won many more. This I earned in revenge for my wife, who was brutally murdered. And this and this and this for my daughters who were ravished. And these others—they are for my sons who are now no more."
"My friend, if you will let me, I should like to embrace you." And there, in the sight of all the passengers, the old habitue of the opera and the common soldier kissed each other. The one satisfaction that the French blind have is in counting the number of Boche they have slaughtered. "In that raid ten of us killed fifty," one will say; "the memory makes me very happy."
Curiously enough the outrage that makes the Frenchman most revengeful is not the murder of his family or the defilement of his women, but the wilful killing of his land and orchards. The land gave birth to all his flesh and blood; when his farm is laid waste wilfully, it is as though the mother of all his generations was violated. This accounts for the indomitable way in which the peasants insist on staying on in their houses under shell-fire, refusing to depart till they are forcibly turned out.
We in England, still less in America, have never approached the loathing which is felt for the Boche in France. Men spit as they utter his name, as though the very word was foul in the mouth.
In the face of all that they have suffered, I do not wonder that the French misunderstand the easy good-humour with which we English go out to die. In their eyes and with the continual throbbing of their wounds, this war is an occasion for neither good-humour nor sportsmanship, but for the wrath of a Hebrew Jehovah, which only blows can appease or make articulate. If every weapon were taken from their hands and all their young men were dead, with naked fists those who were left would smite—smite and smite. It is fitting that they should feel this way, seeing themselves as they do perpetually frescoed against the sky-line of sacrifice; but I am glad that our English boys can laugh while they die.
In trying to explain the change I found in England after war had commenced, I mentioned Henley and the boat-race crowds. I don't think it was a change; it was only a bringing to the surface of something that had been there always. Some years ago I was at Henley when the Belgians carried off the Leander Cup from the most crack crew that England could bring together. Evening after evening through the Regatta week the fear had been growing that we should lose, yet none of that fear was reflected in our attitude towards our Belgian guests. Each evening as they came up the last stretch of river, leading by lengths and knocking another contestant out, the spectators cheered them madly. Their method of rowing smashed all our traditions; it wasn't correct form; it wasn't anything. It ought to have made one angry. But these chaps were game; they were winning. "Let's play fair," said the river; so they cheered them. On the last night when they beat Leander, looking fresh as paint, leading by a length and taking the championship out of England, you would never have guessed by the flicker of an eyelash that it wasn't the most happy conclusion of a good week's sport for every oarsman present.
It's the same spirit essentially that England is showing to-day. She cheers the winner. She trusts in her strength for another day. She insists on playing fair. She considers it bad manners to lose one's temper. She despises to hate back. She has carried this spirit so far that if you enter the college chapels of Oxford to-day, you will find inscribed on memorial tablets to the fallen not only the names of Britishers, but also the names of German Rhodes Scholars, who died fighting for their country against the men who were once their friends. Generosity, justice, disdain of animosity-these virtues were learnt on the playing-fields and race-courses. England knows their value; she treats war as a sport because so she will fight better. For her that approach to adversity is normal.
With us war is a sport. With the French it is a martyrdom. But with the Americans it is a job. "We've got four years to do this job. We've got four years to do this job," as the American soldiers chant. I think in these three attitudes towards war as a martyrdom, as sport and as a job, you get reflected the three gradations of distance by which each nation is divided from the trenches. France had her tribulation thrust upon her. She was attacked; she had no option. England, separated by the Channel, could have restrained the weight of her strength, biding her time. She had her moment of choice, but rushed to the rescue the moment the first Hun bayonet gleamed across the Belgian threshold. America, fortified by the Atlantic, could not believe that her peace was in any way assailed. The idea seemed too madly far-fetched. At first she refused to realise that this apportioning of a continent three thousand miles distant from Germany was anything but a pipe-dream of diplomats in their dotage. It was inconceivable that it could be the practical and achievable cunning of military bullies and strategists. The truth dawned too slowly for her to display any vivid burst of anger. "It isn't true," she said. And then, "It seems incredible." And lastly, "What infernal impertinence!"
It was the infernal impertinence of Germany's schemes for transatlantic plunder that roused the average American. It awoke in him a terrible, calm anger—a feeling that some one must be punished. It was as though he broke off suddenly in what he was doing and commenced rolling up his shirt-sleeves. There was a grim, surprised determination about his quietness, which had not been seen in any other belligerent nation. France became consciously and tragically heroic when war commenced. England became unwontedly cheerful because life was moving on grander levels. In America there was no outward change. The old habit of feverish industry still persisted, but was intensified and applied in unselfish directions.
What has impressed me most in my tour of the American activities in France is the businesslike relentlessness of the preparations. Everything is being done on a titanic scale and everything is being done to last. The ports, the railroads, the plants that are being constructed will still be standing a hundred years from now. There's no "Home for Christmas" optimism about America's method of making war. One would think she was expecting to be still fighting when all the present generation is dead. She is investing billions of dollars in what can only be regarded as permanent improvements. The handsomeness of her spirit is illustrated by the fact that she has no understanding with the French for reimbursement.
In sharp contrast with this handsomeness of spirit is the iciness of her purpose as regards the Boche. I heard no hatred of the individual German—only the deep conviction that Prussianism must be crushed at all costs. The American does not speak of "Poor old Fritz" as we do on our British Front. He's too logical to be sorry for his enemy. His attitude is too sternly impersonal for him to be moved by any emotions, whether of detestation or charity, as regards the Hun. All he knows is that a Frankenstein machinery has been set in motion for the destruction of the world; to counteract it he is creating another piece of machinery. He has set about his job in just the same spirit that he set about overcoming the difficulties of the Panama Canal. He has been used to overcoming the obstinacies of Nature; the human obstinacies of his new task intrigue him. I believe that, just as in peace times big business was his romance and the wealth which he gained from it was often incidental, so in France the job as a job impels him, quite apart from its heroic object. After all, smashing the Pan-Germanic Combine is only another form of trust-busting—trust-busting with aeroplanes and guns instead of with law and ledgers.
There is something almost terrifying to me about this quiet collectedness—this Pierpont Morgan touch of sphinxlike aloofness from either malice or mercy. Just as America once said, "Business is business" and formed her world-combines, collaring monopolies and allowing the individual to survive only by virtue of belonging to the fittest, so now she is saying, "War is war"—something to be accomplished with as little regard to landscapes as blasting a railroad across a continent.
For the first time in the history of this war Germany is "up against" a nation which is going to fight her in her own spirit, borrowing her own methods. This statement needs explaining; its truth was first brought to my attention at American General Headquarters. The French attitude towards the war is utterly personal; it is bayonet to bayonet. It depends on the unflinching courage of every individual French man and woman. The English attitude is that of the knight-errant, seeking high adventures and welcoming death in a noble cause. But the German attitude disregards the individual and knows nothing of gallantry. It lacks utterly the spiritual elation which made the strength of the French at Verdun and of the English at Mons. The German attitude is that of a soulless organisation, invented for one purpose—profitable conquest. War for the Hun is not a final and dreaded atonement for the restoring of justice to the world; it is a business undertaking which, as he is fond of telling us, has never failed to yield him good interest on his capital. I have seen a good deal of the capital he has invested in the battlefields he has lost—men smashed to pulp, bruised by shells out of resemblance to anything human, the breeding place of flies and pestilence, no longer the homes of loyalties and affections. I cannot conceive what percentage of returns can be said to compensate for the agony expended on such indecent Golgothas. However, the Hun has assured us that it pays him; he flatters himself that he is a first-class business man.
But so does the American, and he knows the game from more points of view. For years he has patterned his schools and colleges on German educational methods. What applies to his civilian centres of learning applies to his military as well. German text-books gave the basis for all American military thought. American officers have been trained in German strategy just as thoroughly as if they had lived in Potsdam. At the start of the war many of them were in the field with the German armies as observers. They are able to synchronise their thoughts with the thoughts of their German enemies and at the same time to take advantage of all that the Allies can teach them.
"War is a business," the Germans have said. The Americans, with an ideal shining in their eyes, have replied, "Very well. We didn't want to fight you; but now that you have forced us, we will fight you on your own terms. We will make war on you as a business, for we are businessmen. We will crush you coldly, dispassionately, without rancour, without mercy till we have proved to you that war is not profitable business, but hell."
The American, as I have met him in France, has not changed one iota from the man that he was in New York or Chicago. He has transplanted himself untheatrically to the scenes of battlefields and set himself undisturbedly to the task of dying. There is an amazing normality about him. You find him in towns, ancient with chateaux and wonderful with age; he is absolutely himself, keenly efficient and irreverently modern. Everywhere, from the Bay of Biscay to the Swiss border, from the Mediterranean to the English Channel, you see the lean figure and the slouch hat of the U.S.A. soldier. He is invariably well-conducted, almost always alone and usually gravely absorbed in himself. The excessive gravity of the American in khaki has astonished the men of the other armies who feel that, life being uncertain, it is well to make as genial a use of it as possible while it lasts. The soldier from the U.S.A. seems to stand always restless, alert, alone, listening—waiting for the call to come. He doesn't sink into the landscape the way other troops have done. His impatience picks him out—the impatience of a man in France solely for one purpose. I have seen him thus a thousand times, standing at street-corners, in the crowd but not of it, remarkable to every one but himself. Every man and officer I have spoken to has just one thing to say about what is happening inside him, "Let them take off my khaki and send me back to America, or else hurry me into the trenches. I came here to get started on this job; the waiting makes me tired."
"Let me get into the trenches," that was the cry of the American soldier that I heard on every hand. Having witnessed his eagerness, cleanness and intensity, I ask no more questions as to how he will acquit himself.
I have presented him as an extremely practical person, but no American that I ever met was solely practical. If you watch him closely you will always find that he is doing practical things for an idealistic end. The American who accumulates a fortune to himself, whether it be through corralling railroads, controlling industries, developing mines or establishing a chain of dry-goods stores, doesn't do it for the money only, but because he finds in business the poetry of creating, manipulating, evolving—the exhilaration and adventure of swaying power. And so there came a day when I caught my American soldier dreaming and off his guard.
All day I had been motoring through high uplands. It was a part of France with which I was totally unfamiliar. A thin mist was drifting across the country, getting lost in valleys where it piled up into fleecy mounds, getting caught in tree-tops where it fluttered like tattered banners. Every now and then, with the suddenness of our approach, we would startle an aged shepherd, muffled and pensive as an Arab, strolling slowly across moorlands, followed closely by the sentinel goats which led his flock. The day had been strangely mystic. Time seemed a mood. I had ceased to trouble about where I was going; that I knew my ultimate destination was sufficient. The way that led to it, which I had never seen before, should never see again perhaps, and through which I travelled at the rate of an express, seemed a fairy non-existent Hollow Land. Landscapes grew blurred with the speed of our passage. They loomed up on us like waves, stayed with us for a second and vanished. The staff-officer, who was my conductor, drowsed on his seat beside the driver. He had wearied himself in the morning, taking me now here to see an American Division putting on a manoeuvre, now there to where the artillery were practising, then to another valley where machine-guns tapped like thousands of busy typewriters working on death's manuscript. After that had come bayonet charges against dummies, rifle-ranges and trench-digging—all the industrious pretence at slaughter which prefaces the astounding actuality. We were far away from all that now; the brown figures had melted into the brownness of the hills. There might have been no war. Perhaps there wasn't. Never was there a world more grey and quiet. I grew sleepy. My head nodded. I opened my eyes, pulled myself together and again nodded. The roar of the engine was soothing. The rush of wind lay heavy against my eye-lids. It seemed odd that I should be here and not in the trenches. When I was in the line I had often made up life's deficiencies by imagining, imagining.... Perhaps I was really in the line now. I wouldn't wake up to find out. That would come presently—it always had.
We were slowing down. I opened my eyes lazily. No, we weren't stopping—only going through a village. What a quaint grey village it was—worth looking at if I wasn't so tired. I was on the point of drowsing off again when I caught sight of a word written on a sign-board, Domremy. My brain cleared. I sat up with a jerk. It was magic that I should find myself here without warning—at Domremy, the Bethlehem of warrior-woman's mercy. I had dreamed from boyhood of this place as a legend—a memory of white chivalry to be found on no map, a record of beauty as utterly submerged as the lost land of Lyonesse. Hauntingly the words came back, "Who is this that cometh from Domremy? Who is she in bloody coronation robes from Rheims? Who is she that cometh with blackened flesh from walking in the furnaces of Rouen? This is she, the shepherd girl...." All about me on the little hills were the woodlands through which she must have led her sheep and wandered with her heavenly visions.
We had come to a bend in the village street. Where the road took a turn stood an aged church; nestling beside it in a little garden was a grey, semi-fortified mediaeval dwelling. The garden was surrounded by high spiked railings, planted on a low stone wall. Sitting on the wall beside the entrance was an American soldier. He had a small French child on either knee—one arm about each of them; thus embarrassed he was doing his patient best to roll a Bull Durham cigarette. The children were vividly interested; they laughed up into the soldier's face. One of them was a boy, the other a girl. The long golden curls of the girl brushed against the soldier's cheek. The three heads bent together, almost touching. The scene was timelessly human, despite the modernity of the khaki. Joan of Arc might have been that little girl.
I stopped the driver, got out and approached the group. The soldier jumped to attention and saluted. In answer to my question, he said, "Yes, this is where she lived. That's her house—that grey cottage with scarcely any windows. Bastien le Page could never have seen it; it isn't a bit like his picture in the Metropolitan Gallery."
He spoke in a curiously intimate way as if he had known Joan of Arc and had spoken with her there—as if she had only just departed. It was odd to reflect that America had still lain hidden behind the Atlantic when Joan walked the world.
We entered the gate into the garden, the American soldier, the children and I together. The little girl, with that wistful confidence that all French children show for men in khaki, slipped her grubby little paw into my hand. I expect Joan was often grubby like that.
Brown winter leaves strewed the path. The grass was bleached and dead. At our approach an old sheep-dog rattled his chain and looked out of his kennel. He was shaggy and matted with years. His bark was so weak that it broke in the middle. He was a Rip Van Winkle of a sheep-dog—the kind of dog you would picture in a fairy-tale. One couldn't help feeling that he had accompanied the shepherd girl and had kept the flock from straying while she spoke with her visions. All those centuries ago he had seen her ride away—ride away to save France—and she had not come back. All through the centuries he had waited; at every footstep on the path he had come hopefully out from his kennel, wagging his tail and barking ever more weakly. He would not believe that she was dead. And it was difficult to believe it in that ancient quiet. If ever France needed her, it was now.
Across my memory flashed the words of a dreamer, prophetic in the light of recent events, "Daughter of Domremy, when the gratitude of thy king shall awaken, thou wilt be sleeping the sleep of the dead. Call her, King of France, but she will not hear thee. Cite her by the apparitors to come and receive a robe of honour, but she will not be found. When the thunders of universal France, as even yet may happen, shall proclaim the grandeur of the poor shepherd girl that gave up her all for her country, thy ear, young shepherd girl, will have been deaf five centuries."
Quite illogically it seemed to me that January evening that this American soldier was the symbol of the power that had come in her stead.
The barking of the dog had awakened a bowed old Mother Hubbard lady. She opened the door of her diminutive castle and peered across the threshold, jingling her keys.
Would we come in? Ah, Monsieur from America was there! He was always there when he was not training, playing with the children and rolling cigarettes. And Monsieur, the English officer, perhaps he did not know that she was descended from Joan's family. Oh, yes, there was no mistake about it; that was why she had been made custodian. She must light the lamp. There! That was better. There was not much to see, but if we would follow....
We stepped down into a flagged room like a cellar—cold, ascetic and bare. There was a big open fire-place, with a chimney hooded by massive masonry and blackened by the fires of immemorial winters. This was where Joan's parents had lived. She had probably been born here. The picture that formed in my mind was not of Joan, but that other woman unknown to history—her mother, who after Joan had left the village and rumours of her battles and banquets drifted back, must have sat there staring into the blazing logs, her peasant's hands folded in her lap, brooding, wondering, hoping, fearing—fearing as the mothers of soldiers have throughout the ages.
And this was Joan's brother's room—a cheerless place of hewn stone. What kind of a man could he have been? What were his reflections as he went about his farm-work and thought of his sister at the head of armies? Was he merely a lout or something worse—the prototype of our Conscientious Objector: a coward who disguised his cowardice with moral scruples?
And this was Joan's room—a cell, with a narrow slit at the end through which one gained a glimpse of the church. Before this slit she had often knelt while the angels drifted from the belfry like doves to peer in on her. The place was sacred. How many nights had she spent here with girlish folded hands, her face ecstatic, the cold eating into her tender body? I see her blue for lack of charity, forgotten, unloved, neglected—the symbol of misunderstanding and loneliness. They told her she was mad. She was a laughing stock in the village. The world could find nothing better for her to do than driving sheep through the bitter woodlands; but God found time to send his angels. Yes, she was mad—mad as Christ was in Galilee—mad enough to save others when she could not save herself. How nearly the sacrifice of this most child-like of women parallels the sacrifice of the most God-like of men! Both were born in a shepherd community; both forewent the humanity of love and parenthood; both gave up their lives that the world might be better; both were royally apparelled in mockery; both followed their visions; for each the price of following was death. She, too, was despised and rejected; as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so she opened not her mouth.
That is all there is to see at Domremy; three starveling, stone-paved rooms, a crumbling church, a garden full of dead leaves, an old dog growing mangy in his kennel and the wind-swept cathedral of the woodlands. The soul of France was born there in the humble body of a peasant-girl; yes, and more than the soul of France—the gallantry of all womanhood. God must be fond of His peasants; I think they will be His aristocracy in Heaven.
The old lady led us out of the house. There was one more thing she wished to show us. The sunset light was still in the tree-tops, but her eyes were dim; she thought that night had already gathered. Holding her lamp above her head, she pointed to a statue in a niche above the doorway. It had been placed there by order of the King of France after Joan was dead. But it wasn't so much the statue that she wanted us to look at; it was the mutilations that were upon it. She was filled with a great trembling of indignation. "Yes, gaze your fill upon it, Messieurs," she said; "it was les Boches did that. They were here in 1870. To others she may be a saint, but to them—Bah!" and she spat, "a woman is less than a woman always."
When we turned to go she was still cursing les Boches beneath her breath, tremblingly holding up the lamp above her head that she might forget nothing of their defilement. The old dog rattled his chain as we passed; he knew us now and did not trouble to come out. The dead leaves whispered beneath our tread.
At the gate we halted. I turned to my American soldier. "How long before you go into the line?"
He was carrying the little French girl in his arms. As he glanced up to answer, his face caught the sunset. "Soon now. The sooner, the better. She ...," and I knew he meant no living woman. "This place ... I don't know how to express it. But everything here makes you want to fight,—makes you ashamed of standing idle. If she could do that—well, I guess that I...."
He made no attempt to fill his eloquent silences; and so I left. As the car gathered speed, plunging into the pastoral solitudes, I looked back. The last sight I had of Domremy was a grey little garden, made sacred by the centuries, and an American soldier standing with a French child in his arms, her golden hair lying thickly against his neck.
On the surface the American is unemotionally practical, but at heart he is a dreamer, first, last and always. If the Americans have merited any criticism in France, it is owing to the vastness of their plans; the tremendous dream of their preparations postpones the beginning of the reality. Their mistake, if they have made a mistake, is an error of generosity. They are building with a view to flinging millions into the line when thousands a little earlier would be of superlative advantage. They had the choice of dribbling their men over in small contingents or of waiting till they could put a fighting-force into the field so overwhelming in equipment and numbers that its weight would be decisive. They were urged to learn wisdom from England's example and not to waste their strength by putting men into the trenches in a hurry before they were properly trained. England was compelled to adopt this chivalrous folly by the crying need of France. It looked in the Spring of 1917, before Russia had broken down or the pressure on the Italian front had become so menacing, as though the Allies could afford to ask America to conduct her war on the lines of big business. America jumped at the chance—big business being the task to which her national genius was best suited. If her Allies could hold on long enough, she would build her fleet and appear with an army of millions that would bring the war to a rapid end. Her role was to be that of the toreador in the European bull-fight.
But big business takes time and usually loses money at the start. In the light of recent developments, we would rather have the bird-in-the-hand of 300,000 Americans actually fighting than the promise of a host a year from now. People at home in America realised this in January. They were so afraid that their Allies might feel disappointed. They were so keen to achieve tangible results in the war that they grew impatient with the long delay. They weren't interested in seeing other nations going over the top—the same nations who had been over so many times; they wanted to see their sons and brothers at once given the opportunity to share the wounds and the danger. Their attitude was Spartan and splendid; they demanded a curtailment of their respite that they might find themselves afloat on the crimson tide. The cry of the civilians in America was identical with that of their men in France. "Let them take off our khaki or else hurry us into the trenches. We want to get started. This waiting makes us tired."
And the civilians in America had earned a right to make their demand. Industrially, financially, philanthropically, from every point of view they had sacrificed and played the game, both by the Allies and their army. When they, as civilians, had been so willing to wear the stigmata of sacrifice, they were jealous lest their fighting men should be baulked of their chance of making those sacrifices appear worth while.
There have been many accusations in the States with regard to the supposed breakdown of their military organization in France—accusations inspired by generosity towards the Allies. From what I have seen, and I have been given liberal opportunities to see everything, I do not think that those accusations are justified. As a combatant of another nation, I have my standards of comparison by which to judge and I frankly state that I was amazed with the progress that had been made. It is a progress based on a huge scale and therefore less impressive to the layman than if the scale had been less ambitious. What I saw were the foundations of an organisation which can be expanded to handle a fighting-machine which staggers the imagination. What the layman expects to see are Hun trophies and Americans coming out of the line on stretchers. He will see all that, if he waits long enough, for the American military hospitals in France are being erected to accommodate 200,000 wounded.