The Hard Truth About Long Wars
Why the Conflict in Ukraine Won’t End Anytime Soon
"Our enemies did not use their victory of 1918."--Dr. Robert Ley, Leader of the Nazi Labor Front, November 27, 1940.
AT LAST it was over over there. After four years of nearly mortal expenditures of blood and substance the Allies had put down their foes. Germany's military calculations had been frustrated by only a hair's breadth, but seemingly decisively. The ring of her subject and satellite nations had disintegrated, the Imperial Navy had mutinied, the Imperial Army had capitulated, the Kaiser had fled. Victory was complete. There remained to solve the problems which the war had created or brought to a head. Nobody could -- at any rate nobody did -- guess their number and complexity; they ranged over the whole face of the globe and intruded into every human activity and interest. Apart from these specific problems, there also remained to be solved the master problem of how to diminish the human appetites which had aroused the will to war and how to remedy the human weaknesses which had permitted it to find savage gratification. The only adequate answer to this question, obviously, would be the development of a new theory of the relationship of peoples and a new order in the relationship of states, built on the ruins of what had been worst in the old order and using the remnants of what had been best.
In this creative task the American people intended to share. Their ordeal had been short in comparison to that of their allies, but the same prayer was in their hearts: "Never again!" Never again the stupidity of war, never again its agony and waste, never again the separations, the waiting, never again the long rolls of wounded and dead! Joyfully making ready to welcome their boys home, the American people did not lose sight of this purpose; but they were far from clear in their minds as to what was practicable and necessary to give it effect.
Some began with the premise that the world was one whole. They felt that the United States must join in a systematic attempt to organize and maintain peace throughout the world as the only feasible way of ensuring its own peace. Others, who saw the world as a series of compartments, had a simpler answer. Since the United States seemed situated in a comparatively ample and self-contained compartment they felt that if the Government were wise enough -- as it certainly should be after what had just happened -- it could avoid being ever again sucked into other people's troubles. The idea that a common interest overrode the interests of single compartments and of individual nations in them, or that the surest way of satisfying a particular interest might be to fulfill the general one, did not occur to them; or, if it occurred, was too startling to be considered seriously.
Presented with these completely antithetic conceptions of national strength and interest and duty, the average American found himself in a quandary. Both the signposts being erected at the national crossroads said "To Peace," but they pointed down opposite roads. Most people naturally inclined to follow the one which promised to call for the least effort; but they did not exclude the possibility that the uphill path might be surest and might therefore have to be taken. The risk obviously was that by simply drifting they might allow their course to be fixed for them without ever having reached any deliberate decision.
As yet, few Americans comprehended the significance of April 6, 1917, the day they had accepted Germany's challenge on the high seas and decided to send an army to fight her on her own ground rather than to wait passively for her to conquer Europe and then turn her complete power to the fulfillment of her transatlantic ambitions. In making that decision the United States had become a World Power in the full sense of the term. The change did not affect just its own future position and behavior. Henceforward, all nations had to reckon with a new situation, not merely in dealing with the United States but in calculating the possibilities and limitations of action among themselves. No longer would it be safe for them to regard the United States as an emigrant uncle who had made a fortune in distant parts and who, like all rich persons, required polite treatment, but who never expected to return to the old country, never needed to be consulted in family councils and never would take part in family feuds. Henceforth the uncle's opinion would have to be solicited in every crisis; and even if he withheld it, that simple fact would, in a way, be as influential on their actions as any expression of his direct interest could possibly be. For who now could fight without his help? Even more important, who could hope to resist a powerful antagonist for long without it? This situation would continue, moreover, whether Americans themselves liked and accepted it or feared and resisted it. From now on, whether they recognized it or not, their power of choice was limited to deciding whether to play their rôle in the world well or badly.
In December 1918 President Wilson left for Paris to make a peace which, he hoped, would enable and require the United States to play its rôle as a World Power decisively and well. Already the great debate as to whether or not to accept the rôle as he planned it had begun among the American people and in the American press. No purpose will be served today by exaggerating the importance of what was at stake in this debate. All it consisted of, according to any fair estimate, was a chance. There was a chance that the millions who had just died would not become a vain oblation, but that on the contrary the hopes which had carried them to their sacrifice would be fulfilled and perpetuated. There was a chance that the sacrifice of millions of lives more in a second holocaust might be avoided. This was the stake which lay on the table as Wilson settled down at number 22 rue de Monceau to perfect the plan for a League of Nations and the people at home began discussing in earnest the merits and drawbacks of what he intended to accomplish. Only a chance. Can anything more precious be imagined?
Nobody knew as yet whether mankind could mobilize enough intelligence to adopt a plan for peace and enough will power to make it work. The United States would decide. Because it was the strongest, the richest, the least damaged and apparently the most safely situated of the winners, because it was not tainted with any share of responsibility for having created the war, and because it did not seek any material profit from the victory, it enjoyed incomparable power and prestige and seemed to possess unique freedom of choice. Its vote would be decisive for all the anxious peoples of the world.
The plan eventually drawn up at Paris invited nations which said they wanted peace to club together to maintain it. Nobody could guarantee that the proposed association would work or prove that it would not. The only way to find out was for all who did not want it to be a failure to help in the effort to make it a success. The first step was to organize the club and adopt rules for the behavior of members. If the rules needed changing in the light of experience, as seemed sure to be the case, they could be changed. But at the start the emphasis would not be on change but on stability and security. The aim was to deter aggression by making the threat of it a matter of common concern and the prevention of it a joint responsibility. The hope was that while the danger of aggression was being held at arm's length the particular dispute from which it had arisen might be solved by negotiation, conciliation, arbitration and adjudication. In case these procedures should fail, there was an undertaking to discourage aggression by applying economic sanctions and, in a last resort, a provision for defeating an actual aggressor by the joint use of force. Some felt that the procedure was dangerously weak, since the final decision to take action against an aggressor could be reached only by unanimous vote. On the other hand, this appealed to persons who were sticklers for national sovereignty and to liberals who were more concerned that a member should never find itself in a minority and obliged to defend a cause which it might consider unjust than that causes considered just by the majority should be defended.
Would the American people give the scheme a try? Would they gamble on the unknown risks of peace or stick to the familiar risks of war?
It is hard now to recapture the feelings of that distant time when the choice was made. Few of those who in 1919 and 1920 urged that the United States accept its full responsibilities would say today with any assurance that if only they had had their way the final result would necessarily have been different. The ensuing 20 years might have culminated in disaster just the same. But if hopes might have been dupes, fears certainly did not turn out to be liars. Passing again through the valley of death, we look back enviously to the time when once before we had won through the shadows and stood on the heights, bloody but victorious, free to take the road of our choice into the future. These pages recall what happened during the pause at the crossroads. There would be no justification in telling the story again, even briefly, merely for the pleasure of criticizing the individuals whose errors of judgment helped lose us the way. But simple justice to the soldiers of this war, to say nothing of those of the last one, requires that history never fail to record how it was that those errors reduced the victory to an armistice and condemned to futility the hope and plan for escaping a renewal of the conflict.
Without American help, the nations which wanted peace found it impossible to organize an effective front against those which might sometime again want war. The sense of common destiny formed in the comradeship of a common struggle frittered away. "Friendship," President Wilson warned in December 1918, "must have a machinery." It was not provided. Forces which could easily have been preponderant in the world if they had been correlated remained separate and ineffectual. Potential aggressors were left free to prepare, at first subterraneously and tentatively, then boldly and boastfully, for a renewal of the dreadful test of arms which had come so near settlement, with American help and under the impact of the American President's moral authority, on the railroad siding in the Forest of Compiègne and in the great Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
In November 1918 all this lay in the undisclosed future. Very quickly, however, there began to appear symptoms of the changed American mood which was eventually to lead the country around full-circle to the edge of the same awful pit where it had stood in April 1917. The tension of war relaxed, and bit by bit a sense of letdown and even futility replaced the elation of victory. The inclination to let well enough alone became a conviction that well enough ought to be let alone. Apprehension about little things mingled with over-confidence about big ones. Satisfaction with what had been done was allowed to obscure the importance of what was still to do.
The American people did not consciously repudiate the idealism that had sustained their wartime efforts and made their wartime sacrifices seem worth while. If the Gallup Poll had been in existence, it probably would have revealed their continuing faith in the ultimate objectives established by President Wilson at the very start and eloquently restated by him at intervals throughout the conflict. "What we seek," he said compactly in July 1918, "is the reign of law, based upon the consent of the governed, and sustained by the organized opinion of mankind." The exhortation to help make the world safe for democracy had become hackneyed. Nevertheless, because the requirement which caused Wilson to formulate it and repeat it time and again was clearly and abidingly true, it still had the capacity to stir people's hearts. Their immediate attention, however, was turning to the specific decisions which had to be made in the home and the office, in the shop and on the farm. The President was still looking forward and upward, but the eyes of the crowd were on the difficulties clustering close around their feet.
The country's inclination to lower its sights was natural enough. The danger which had galvanized everyone into united action had, with the coming of victory, changed its face. Instead of being incarnated in a hateful and easily recognized enemy, the Boche, the menace had reverted to that old pulpit abstraction, War. Hearts agreed enthusiastically that War should be wiped out; minds might be brought to agree that certain actions should be taken toward that end; but there was an overwhelming desire to rest a while first. This tendency was strengthened by the fact that for the first time in nearly two years people had leisure for criticizing the past and worrying about the future, and that by a natural enough process of rationalization they found in those criticisms and worries, no matter how relatively minor they really might be, an excuse for not proceeding with enterprises requiring new outlays of imagination and energy.
Everyone was pleased that the United States had been able to make such a decisive contribution to the Allied victory; and almost everyone was grumbling a little about the taxes needed to pay for it. Businessmen recognized that the Government had conducted the greatest financial operations in history honestly and had handled enormous war contracts impartially; but they feared that state intervention in business, accepted as necessary to achieve production goals and prevent profiteering, might be carried over by bureaucratic busybodies into everyday practice. There was widespread relief that democratic principles had survived the emergency; but a considerable lack of confidence in the democratic procedure was revealed in "red scares" and in the impatience of the public when "wobblies" or "parlor pinks" invoked their constitutional rights of speech and assembly. There was thankfulness that the pitfalls of coalition warfare had been avoided. Most Americans, when they realized with what difficulty Allied unity of command had been achieved and what chances for mutual recrimination had lurked in the differences in size, nature and timing of the various national contributions, were willing to grant that President Wilson had handled his military problems pretty well. They also credited him with picking able men to run the military machine, giving Pershing freedom of decision in the field and supporting him in his effort to make American power effective without sacrificing the separate identity of American troops. But they did not allow recognition of the President's merits as Commander-in-Chief to interfere with the pleasure of ridiculing him for having once dared use the phrase "too proud to fight;" and the successful organization and operation of the American Army and Navy did not put an end to cheap jokes about Secretary of War Baker's former pacifism and Secretary of the Navy Daniels' teetotalism.
Opinions were divided as to how quickly the American Expeditionary Force could and should be withdrawn from Europe. Families wanted their boys home instantly; and certainly the boys longed for home. The expression of this natural wish and the political emphasis placed on the need for its prompt fulfillment were early revelations that Americans generally considered the American job finished with the silencing of the last German gun in the Argonne. Allied military leaders were apprehensive that until Germany had actually signed a peace treaty she might balk and that further force might have to be employed. Regardless of this, they considered that American troops must stay at key strategic points until she had been thoroughly disarmed. Sporadic fighting still continued, moreover, in widely separated parts of the Continent. Former underdogs were settling scores with former masters and rival successors were taking pot shots at each other. Plebiscites were in view in certain areas, and order had to be maintained there meanwhile. In many cities starvation was causing discontent with whatever local authority happened to be in charge, regardless of its responsibility for the situation or its ability to remedy it. Bolshevik agents were shuttling from and to Russia, encouraging revolution. In the swamps and woodlands of Eastern Europe rival bands of freebooters were harassing each other in the name of national honor or racial integrity, living meantime off the stunned and miserable population.
Europe did not lack indigenous forces of regeneration and order, and the provisional governments which had installed themselves or were being installed under the aegis of the great Allies were gradually making their authority felt. But the process was evidently not going to be completed at once. American officers, diplomats, high commissioners, personal agents of the President and officials of the Relief Administration were all over the place, trying to help quell disorders, reconcile contrary claims and alleviate suffering. Sometimes they worked in harmony with the representatives of the other Allied Powers, sometimes at cross-purposes. But however much our Allies disagreed with our point of view on this problem or that, they begged us not to withdraw our political commissions or our relief agencies and not to remove all our troops. In accordance with overwhelming popular demand the bulk of the American Expeditionary Force was nevertheless brought back to the United States as rapidly as available transport would permit.
The war's legacy of rivalry and strife sprang to the eye and was of course described in the American press in all its deplorable detail. The evidences that mankind has unfailing and almost automatic abilities to renew its forces from the most unpromising soil were more obscure; but most of the American newspapermen who were assigned to cover the Peace Conference or sent poking about in the corners of the war-torn continent were able to detect the hopeful symptoms as well as those which seemed to foretell permanent chaos.[i] Some, of course, sent home biassed dispatches -- often with the excuse that particular circumstances hampered accurate reporting, as, for example, when a censorship was placed on day-by-day developments at the Peace Conference; or sometimes out of spite or to suit the views of an ignorant newspaper proprietor. But the average correspondent showed sufficient tolerance toward European mistakes and an unexpected understanding of national cross-purposes. Certainly the American public needed every bit of guidance possible. The difficulty of correctly interpreting even scrupulously accurate news from abroad had much increased since the time when every act of everybody everywhere could be judged by the simple standard of whether or not it would help win the war. And plenty of the things which Allied politicians said and did with an eye on their electorates were bound to appear selfish and ungrateful on this side of the Atlantic and were sure to be criticized by American politicians with an eye on their electorates.
Many of the American reactions in this first period after the Armistice would have been natural in any people just released from unaccustomed strain. Others were special, due either to some particular American way of seeing and doing things or to the particular conditions in which the American people had entered, fought and won the war. Americans had watched with something like incredulity as Germany relentlessly, step by step, rendered it impossible that they should remain aloof from the struggle in Europe. Once they were in, however, they had taken in their stride all the difficulties and hazards incident to making power effective so far from home. They had transformed their peacetime machinery of production to the tasks of war almost overnight and (with a few notable exceptions) with phenomenal success. They had surprised their allies, their enemies and even themselves by the speed with which they had raised a great army and transported it across the submarine-infested Atlantic. The idea of a draft might have been thought too thoroughly antipathetic to the national spirit to be tolerated; on the contrary, it had been welcomed on grounds of democratic justice as well as military necessity. When the Armistice came, about two million men were overseas, another two million were in training, many other men and women were engaged in various kinds of war service and uncounted millions more were occupied with war work. This had been accomplished in one year and seven months. The achievement on the moral side had been as praiseworthy. The vast dislocation of normal life had been accepted as a matter of course; the deep anxieties felt by everyone with husbands and sons in the service had been concealed; and when the casualty lists began to appear they had been read with fortitude and pride.
With all this the American people had a right to feel satisfied. The fact remains that their ordeal had been merciful measured against the agony of their European allies. The differences in experience left them with strikingly different recollections and judgments.
Destruction had not descended on American roofs and death had not struck into American back yards. The enemy had not landed at Montauk and along the Jersey beaches, had not pounded Washington with Big Berthas, had not seized and shot American hostages and carted off American property. Civilian America had not been forced to discover the aggravations of finding billets for even the troops of an ally and of filling requisitions for corn and potatoes. There had been no blockade to jeopardize the American food supply. Americans had endured war at a distance for one year and seven months; Europeans had known the terror of war in their streets and felt the agony of it in their flesh during four years and three months. In the American Army and Navy, the toll was 126,000 dead and something over 200,000 wounded; more than a million Frenchmen had been killed by Germans and another four million wounded, while the British Empire counted close to a million dead and two million more wounded. When the fighting was over, the victorious American troops did not return home to find their industrial towns piles of rubble, their national shrines gutted, and charred rafters and gaunt chimney-stacks reflected in the waters of the Delaware, the Connecticut and the Wabash.
Even the pangs of acute military uncertainty had been brief. In the spring and early summer of 1918 the American people had shared the whole Allied world's anxiety while the outcome of the great new Ludendorff offensives hung in the balance. But it had not been the desperate concern of every individual citizen for his or her own roof and his or her own skin. It had been fully poignant, probably, only to those whose loved ones were about to go into action or might have to be thrown in hurriedly, before they were really ready, in case the battle-worn French and British could not check the German assault. The moment Foch's masterly counterstroke swallowed up the German attack of July 15, American apprehensions had dispersed as suddenly as they had come. Tough fighting remained. But this had been interesting to most Americans mainly because it revealed the mettle of the untried American Army. They never had been in any real doubt about the outcome.
Sensible Americans never adopted the gratifying theory that the A.E.F. "won the war." Ludendorff wrote later on of his astonishment at the speedy arrival of American troops in Europe, and certainly the knowledge that other millions were piling up at their backs was a principal factor in deciding the German High Command to capitulate. But no one phase of the struggle could be viewed apart from every other phase, and the contribution of no one nation could be considered decisive. The brilliant improvisations of the French command at the Marne and the heroic stamina of the poilu at Verdun; everything that the words Ypres and Vimy meant in English ears; the Serbian Army's repulse of two Austro-Hungarian invasions and the undismayed retreat of its survivors before a third; the fatalistic bravery of the Russian soldier in the blood, ice and mud of a thousand confused battles from the Baltic to the Carpathians; the Belgian monarch's refusal to capitulate; the operations on the so-called "secondary" fronts from the Dardanelles to Siberia, from the Arctic to the Cameroons, each of them really a war in itself -- all the Allied losses in the field, all the sufferings at home, would have gone for nothing if the Americans had not come pouring overseas in the nick of time, brimming with confidence and with the resources of a new continent behind them. But the American advance guard would never have had a chance to reach Château-Thierry and the Argonne if day by day, after more than four solid years, the French and British had not been able to stand and willing to die. Every act of every minute of the long agony interlocked. The glory of each was the glory of all.
In the first flush of victory, however, it was not in human nature to review the whole story coolly, and this was true whether the humans happened to be American or European. Each nation had its own historical perspective. The French, British and others were bound to think back with some bitterness over the long months and years when the United States was clinging to its neutrality and German gunfire was bringing daily tragedy to European homes. For Americans, on the other hand, the final chapter alone was really vivid. That an expedition overseas had been necessary, that the utmost effort had been required to raise, arm, transport and supply the forces which made it successful, and that while this stupendous undertaking was going forward the country's fate had depended on the stamina of others -- this ought to have been a chastening experience. As things turned out it was not. The expedition had been hardly more than a sortie. The moment the American troops appeared at the front the tide of battle had turned. If a few green divisions could work such a miracle against the veteran German Army three thousand miles from home, of what prodigies were the American people not capable? A wave of exhilaration and self-congratulation swept the country, erasing memories of the short period of apprehension when the Allied lines were bulging under Hindenburg's desperate blows and American hopes were pinned on the interdependence of the Allies and close and continuing team-play among them.
In a word, the precedents set by our action in Europe proved to be very misleading. As a yardstick for measuring the military strength of the United States alongside the normal military strength of other nations the experience of the A.E.F. was not reliable, for it did not reveal that the difference between potential force and force in being is ordinarily that between defeat and victory. More important than any such error in military calculations was the fact that the American people's emotional experience had been too incomplete to affect their character deeply and that their experience with coalition warfare had been too brief to fix in their minds the usefulness of having friends and the desirability of adopting a national policy directed toward that end. Instead, they were confirmed in their liking to "go it alone" and convinced of their capacity to do so when they chose if they chose.
A sign that the country intended to resume life entirely as usual was the instant revival of the traditional American prerogative of asking questions. Who had really started the war? Had America been inveigled into pulling British and French chestnuts out of the fire? Was Germany as black as she had been painted? Had Wilson been gypped at Paris? Self-appointed mentors were ready with confident answers, varying according to their prejudices, politics and sources of information. Attitudes on the receiving end were various also. Some would not hear any ill of their recent allies, some would not believe any good of them. Familiar American characters -- the city slicker who makes a point of knowing all the answers in advance, and the man from Missouri who never believes any answer, particularly a true one -- came back into their own. But the fault of most people at first was not that they were prejudiced or suspicious but that they did not care deeply enough to develop prejudices, let alone convictions. Having had the satisfaction of calling into question the sincerity of their allies and the wisdom of their own agents, they couldn't be bothered to go very deeply into the resulting reports, exposés and arguments. They thus could feel that they were admirably open-minded, and congratulate themselves on it; but also they remained at the mercy of interpreters who had special causes to plead, politicians who had special axes to grind, and hot gospellers who pointed up the sawdust trails of salvation and left their converts, after they had passed on, gasping, disillusioned and ready to renege on all their good intentions.
It was a moment, unfortunately, when mockery, always a convenient refuge from thought, was especially tempting and could be turned against our former allies with considerable effect. Their descriptions of how they had behaved in the critical weeks and days before the war had often been unnecessarily smug; and their orator friends in the United States had played up their philanthropic aims and had glossed over others which though equally proper were more materialistic. This now proved embarrassing, for anyone who took the trouble could easily find excuses to cast suspicion on their motives and criticize their methods. The colored books on war origins had so carefully exonerated each Ally in turn from even the charge of contributory negligence in face of the impending disaster that those parts of them which were truthful and complete were at as great a discount as those parts which were truthful but incomplete and therefore misleading. The discovery that in 1915 England, France and Russia had tempted Italy to desert the Central Powers by the promise of large amounts of other peoples' property, and that they had not informed our Government fully of this commitment when we joined them in the war, damaged their reputation for frankness. The admission that Belgian babies had probably never been nailed to barn doors threw discredit on the long record of authenticated atrocities of other sorts ordered in cold blood by the German, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian Armies in execution of their methodic policy of terror. In this way all the beliefs of wartime were brought under suspicion, and people began looking for the snare in any profession of disinterestedness and for the catch in every idealistic program.
As already suggested, too, active catalytic agents were present to accelerate the process. The American nation is made up of many nationalities, including those against which it had just been fighting. The Armistice was a signal that sympathizers with our beaten enemies and professional haters of our recent allies could again air their views. The former set to work to whitewash Germany and Austria-Hungary, the latter to blacken England and France. Each played the other's game to some extent, and the combined impact was considerable. Citizens of German descent (many of whom, it is fair to note, had writhed under unjust accusations of hyphenated Americanism) were naturally gratified to hear that the old country had not behaved so badly after all. Irish sympathizers were delighted to think the worst possible of Britain, and incorporated into their folklore the tale that she had provoked the war and then persuaded us to win it while she loafed on the sidelines. The myth about the decadence of the French bobbed up again, unimpaired by their exploits under Joffre and Foch. In the Middle West, traditionally suspicious of the older and more cosmopolitan Eastern seaboard, demagogues cultivated the idea that Wall Street bankers had pushed the country into the war in order to make money out of it. Most influential of all, perhaps, a new school of writers and professors discovered that cynicism could be made to pay good dividends in a period of reaction from long endeavor and sacrifice. They invented all sorts of half-truths about what had happened along "the road to war" and put the blame for our having been finally caught in hostilities on any shoulders except those of our enemies. One of their favorite theses was that the policy of a nation is by definition "unmoral." The conclusion which they drew from this -- very satisfactory to those we had just been fighting -- was that attempts to pass judgment on a nation's acts are necessarily "unscientific" and "hypocritical."
The scholars meanwhile were beginning to scrutinize the diplomatic documents of July and August 1914 word by word and to compare what had been done in the various capitals minute by minute. All sorts of interesting hypotheses could be worked out about some leader's good or bad faith from the fact that a certain dispatch probably reached him seven and a half minutes earlier or later than had hitherto been supposed. Research of this sort, while the materials were recent and many witnesses were still alive, ensured that there would be fuller detail and truer perspective in the portraits, individual and national, which historians would paint and repaint for years to come. But the more closely one examined the actual "revelations" the more one found that they had little if any bearing on the fundamental issues of the war and that they altered in only insignificant detail the plain facts on which the American people had based their early judgments as to what it was about and as to who were mainly to blame for its occurrence.
The publication of new hypotheses of war guilt nevertheless had a public effect out of all proportion to the importance of any of the actual discoveries. Few people had time to look into them closely, and the general assumption was that fundamental earlier judgments were being not merely refined but actually reversed. The tidal wave of books and articles launched by the historical "debunkers" did not strike with full force until the later twenties, but the technique came into use almost at once, and to the extent that it gave an appearance of scholarship to various arguments advanced by groups hostile to our recent allies it played its part in shaping our national attitude toward the new political struggles developing in Europe.
A reaction in favor of our recent foes was destined to take place in any event, if only on the grounds of good sportsmanship and amiability. Americans make such a god of sport that they instinctively feel magnanimous toward any beaten adversary; and they had been confused as to the nature of this particular adversary by many factors, among them the tendency of a section of the press to report the war play-by-play as though it were a world's series. The disposition to take the side of the underdog did credit to American sentiment. Some Europeans noted, however, that softheartedness may lead you into letting a thug go free before you have made sure that he won't be able to buy a new pistol down the street; and when they spoke thus the general feeling in America was that they were not behaving like good sports.
The Peace Conference was evidently bound to strain American relations with the other Allies. The best of friends are liable to disagree when the time comes to dissolve a partnership and divide up the assets. Nor were the difficulties of the tired statesmen who met at Paris lessened by the fact that they were liquidating a war in which chance rather than choice had made them partners. In the circumstances they perhaps did not do so badly. All the European representatives were accountable to electorates which had been under long and terrific strain and had been stiffened to stand it by the promise of impossible rewards. The English temper was such that Lloyd George found it necessary, or at any rate profitable, to promise that Britain was going to be made a place fit for heroes to live in at German expense. The right criticism of the slogan "Make Germany Pay" was not, of course, that it was immoral or unsportsmanlike but that there simply did not exist in Germany alone sufficient wealth and manpower to make good the net deficit accrued to all the rest of the world in four years of destruction. If the delegates had told this plainly to the folks back home most of them would not have lasted a day in office.
Besides dealing with the enemy states, the Peace Conference had to solve territorial disputes between the Allies themselves, alleviate epidemics and famines in several areas, handle coups d'état and social revolutions, and still retain enough energy to shape long-range plans for restoring the world as a whole to something like order and prosperity. Nothing in the ordinary American citizen's experience helped him to understand problems of such range and complexity or to judge between the specific claims and counter-claims of the various contestants. He was without the exact knowledge to decide whether certain dots on the map should be marked Zips or Spi&sbreve;, Fiume or Rijeka, Bromberg or Bydgoszcd, and he saw no reason why he should exert himself to acquire it.
Anyway, issues of that sort seemed picayune in light of the objectives for which the war supposedly had been fought. It was not realized in the United States that the manner in which details were disposed of would be a test of the settlement as a whole and that the perseverance of the American experts who were working to find the fairest possible solution of even the smallest controversy would constitute, in the final reckoning, the best justification of the President's wartime pledges. It was easy enough, unfortunately, to find fault with particular boundaries traced at Paris. Still more unfortunately, any boundary traced in various areas of inextricable ethnic confusion was bound to be open to some criticism. Usually the most vehement critics of certain territorial solutions said nothing about the tremendous improvement which the new ethnic pattern of Europe as a whole represented over the old one; for although 25 or 30 million people were still left outside their national boundaries in "the horrible Europe of Versailles" this figure represented only a quarter or a third of the roughly 100 millions who had lived under alien masters in the old Europe. Later on it became plain that the Peace Conference had paid too little attention to the need for measures of international economic coöperation. But that was hindsight. For most people, the lessons of the evils of economic nationalism were not to become plain until a decade later (if then). Who could have persuaded the American people in 1919 that it was to their advantage to exploit their favorable economic position with restraint? At the time, a more favorite topic of complaint was the financial section of the Treaty. Its faults were glaring; the circumstance that the American delegation had been chiefly responsible for keeping them from being much greater was ignored. American criticism of the size of the German reparations bill was to continue long after the schedule of payments had been revised downwards and, eventually, abolished. Indeed, it did not cease even when Germany was found to have actually received more in postwar loans from American and British bankers than she had ever paid out to all her victims put together.
When the Paris controversies hung fire it was supposed by many Americans that their representatives must be hesitating between clear right and clear wrong. Most of them did not realize how often the perfectly tenable rights of one European nation were in conflict with the perfectly tenable rights of another, sometimes in the same ethnic, historical, strategic or economic category, sometimes in different but apparently equally important categories. Hence they did not understand that since both contestants for a province or port or mountain barrier or market town could not receive absolute justice, the only way of effecting a settlement between them was gradually to uncover and invoke overriding common interests and to try to find some general guarantee to replace the unilateral guarantee of proprietorship. They did not take into account that this procedure might require weeks and months of careful exploration and patient argument. When there was a delay in the settlement, therefore, they inclined to lay it not to the intrinsic difficulties of the task but to the rapaciousness of European statesmen; and if they were assured (as of course they were) that these had been abetted in their manœuvres by the ignorant idealism or cowardly weakness or obstinate megalomania of Wilson and his delegation they were in the frame of mind to believe it. Americans had been carefully told, too, that though it was necessary to kill Germans they must avoid hating them or believing too much ill of them. It was a natural conclusion from this to suppose that Europeans like Clemenceau and Poincaré, who did hate them and continued to fear them even in defeat, must be narrow and vengeful. The natural quarrelsomeness which Americans came to attribute to Europeans became the origin of the theory, widespread in later years, that American statesmen had been caught like babes in the wood of tangled European greeds and hates.
We must record, then, as important consequences of Wilson's experience in Europe, that Americans in general became highly susceptible to arguments throwing suspicion on their recent allies and depreciating the capabilities of their own leaders, and that they developed an intense distaste for the whole business of peacemaking and a feeling of mistrust in advance for whatever treaty would emerge from it, regardless of the merits or demerits of its specific provisions.
In broader fields of international policy the pioneer work of the American delegation was noted mainly to be ridiculed or belittled. The Americans aimed, besides working out compromises of specific conflicts, to go further and devise palliatives for certain types of recurring international friction which never before had been treated internationally. The attempt to create a sense of joint responsibility in fields hitherto regarded as the sole prerogative of separate sovereign states was ridiculed by the same smart-Alecs who denied that a nation's acts could be judged by standards of common morality; and of course it was called subversive of traditional American rights and privileges by all the elements which were seeking to make trouble between us and our recent allies or between the President and the people. No good was found in the mandates system, an experimental attempt to prevent the exploitation of backward peoples; or in the minorities treaties, an effort to give racial and religious groups in eastern Europe some measure of international protection; or in the proposed International Labor Organization to discuss social problems and perhaps bring them nearer adjustment by mutual agreement. Even some of the liberals who might have been expected to praise these novelties were such perfectionists that they rejected the whole jar of ointment because of the fly in it. Often the specific criticisms were perfectly sound. Indeed, we can see in retrospect that sometimes the whole approach to a particular set of problems was wrong. The unfairness of the attacks was not that they were severe but that they were undiscriminating, usually taking no account of the reasons why perfection had not been achieved and giving no credit for the accomplishments which counterbalanced the failures.
The specific criticisms of Wilson's actions at Paris were discouraging enough. Worse, there could soon be noticed an underlying strain of undiscriminating ridicule for the ideal of international coöperation as such. Like everyone else, Americans naturally felt that their home ways were best; and they now were being glibly assured that they were safest. On the heels of the query whether a greater degree of order and justice could ever be established in the world, even with the best of good will and by the most intelligent effort, there crept in pessimistic doubts whether anything in that direction ought even to be attempted. How far the country had slipped away from its wartime ideals showed itself in the terminology of the twenties. "Impracticable" became the habitual adjective to use with "idealism;" "useless" always accompanied "sacrifice;" and "foreign" was followed automatically by "entanglement."
When the text of the Treaty of Versailles was finally published in May 1919 some American critics attacked it as showing that Wilson had made cowardly compromises under the pressure of his foreign colleagues, while others said it proved how completely he had sacrificed the quick achievement of common-sense solutions to the tedious pursuit of ideological will-o'-the-wisps. But the general reaction was boredom. The Treaty had been discussed too long. The desire to be relieved from listening to more discussions of what to do with places with outlandish names and of how to divide up hypothetical sums of money became overwhelming. The war was over, wasn't it? The peoples of Europe were free again, weren't they? Then why in the name of common sense didn't they settle down together to enjoy the peace the United States had helped them win?
With victory secure there certainly seemed less to choose between them all, conquerors and conquered, than in the early days when German U-boats were sinking our neutral ships on the Atlantic or later when, with the French and British holding Arras and the Chemin-des-Dames, our transports were ferrying raw American troops across to Brest. From the day of the Armistice, the friends of Germany and the foes of Britain and France had been busy emphasizing that Europeans were all much of a muchness. Their efforts would have been unimportant if the tide of popular opinion had not been setting in that direction anyway. They made it flow more strongly, carrying the American people further and further away from their wartime convictions, hopes and determinations.
The personal discoveries made overseas by American doughboys worked in the same direction. For the first time in their lives, hundreds of thousands of young Americans had been living among peoples who ate unfamiliar foods, were largely innocent of the use of W.C.'s, travelled in what looked like toy trains and traded in incomprehensible currencies. Some of them spoke the same language as the Yanks; but they called it the King's English, in itself an objectionable term, and the uniformity of the common tongue as a whole made the individual differences, particularly in colloquial expression, stand out all the more prominently as objects of ridicule on both sides. French was, of course, a complete barrier to understanding, for no typically American school or college ever succeeds in leaving a syllable of the language on the tongue of the typical American student after even several years of instruction. On the other hand, French francs and centimes caused less confusion and animosity than British pounds, shillings and pence. Home at last, how sweet it was to taste Ma's pies again, to ride about in the new Model-T Fords, to order a banana split at the corner drugstore, and to pay for things in good old dollars and cents! Every familiar object and custom seemed to reflect particular credit on God's own country and awakened the resolution to keep it free from the contamination of alien ways.
Attitudes toward the peoples of Europe varied, of course, with different first-hand experiences. Often the appraisals of friend and foe brought back from overseas were quite a change from those carried abroad at the start. The American soldier was so much better paid than any other that in foreign eyes he was a millionaire and a fair object of exploitation everywhere. In the final reckoning, the Germans often came out better than the British or French. For one thing, they had been beaten and the Americans felt a glow of satisfaction in forgiving them. Those assigned to occupation duty in the Rhineland admired the cleanliness and order of the villages, an attractive contrast to some they had seen in France. Pleased to find that the American soldiers were ready to let bygones be bygones, the people of the occupied zone were punctiliously polite to them from the start. This was a refreshing change for the Americans after the strain of fighting alongside French and British troops who sometimes hardly concealed that they looked on them as greenhorns, and upon whom, in revenge, the Americans put the blame for every defect in their joint military operations. Occasional comments by the French on what seemed to them the indecently friendly relations so soon established between the Yanks and the Heinies did not smooth ruffled American feelings either.
Such were a few of the reasons why returning members of the A.E.F. had revised many of their opinions about Europe long before their transports got in sight of the New York skyline. After they were home the revulsion was carried still further. Accounts of Allied bickerings filled the newspapers. The prizes being grabbed at by the British, French, Italian, Japanese and other statesmen at Paris certainly bore little resemblance to the moral abstractions which American soldiers thought they had crossed the ocean to defend. Since the United States was not seeking any tangible gain out of the war they tended to assume that their mission abroad had been purely chivalrous. The advantage of having been able to defeat German militarism in Europe instead of on American soil ought to have occurred to everyone who had seen the devastation of northern France and Belgium; but strangely enough it did not. The idea that they were the liberators of Europe was too strong to be modified by the conception that they also were defenders of American liberties. The returning soldier seldom was sobered by any thought that the world which must be made safe for all the good things he prized so highly included the United States itself. To his first glance, it never had seemed lovelier or in more full possession of the fruits of freedom and democracy. And particularly to him, of course, it had never seemed more invulnerable.
The second impressions of home, however, were not always so agreeable. When the parades were over the ex-serviceman was saddened to find how quickly the tales of his exploits became boring to friends who had stayed behind. Even more aggravating was to find that the friends had taken the pick of the peacetime jobs. Many men had developed new skills while in the service, but often these could not be turned to account in civil life. Few of the temporary officers could find permanent places in the Army and Navy, and then only at grades and pay far below emergency levels. Many had been ruined by rank for the give-and-take of ordinary pursuits. We all remember the ex-officers who expected to "tell the whole cockeyed world" just what to do in the same way they had been telling platoons or companies. And there were those who dreamt of political careers built on their military records -- and the smaller the record, often, the bigger the dream.
Needless to say, thousands and thousands of ex-servicemen held in some form or degree to their wartime faith, refusing to let disappointment or rebuffs or the press of everyday affairs crowd out entirely the hopes and ideals which had moved them in the days of their great adventure. They were to be found in newspaper offices and publishing concerns, college faculties and the clergy; they were scattered here and there through all the liberal arts and professions, and were represented in the newer types of labor leadership and in more enlightened business circles. Cranks and exaltés aside, there were enough of them to keep alive through the dissolute twenties something of the crusader's gleam and to see to it that international objectives gradually became included, alongside traditional incentives to social and political reform, in the main stream of those liberal forces which from time to time exercise such a strong effect on our national development. There even were enough stubborn idealists to form a chain of highly unorthodox posts in the American Legion. The pity was that (contrary to popular belief) only a minority of veterans ever joined the Legion, a fact that sometimes left too much influence in the organization to groups wanting to make a profession out of their war service.
The typical ex-serviceman, probably, was the man who concluded that he had done his share toward setting the world to rights, placed his war experiences resolutely behind him and started in to make up for time lost in business and pleasure. Others, again, were simply out of sorts. The girls they had left behind had forgotten them; or they were disgusted to find that prohibition had been "put over" while they were away; or they were restless "in the sticks" after glimpsing the wide, wide world. Some soured more definitely. Kaiser Bill having been beaten, they forgot what the world would have been like if he hadn't. "We were played for suckers," they commented bitterly, and began abusing the idealists who had dared suppose that the long, long trail a-windin' could possibly lead to any land of dreams. "Hokum!" they said, or worse. The extreme reactions, however, were minor variations on the main theme. The overwhelming majority of the veterans had one ambition -- to forget the war and to resume their ordinary lives as quickly as possible.
Generally speaking, their families were of the same mind. Women know best the heartbreak of waiting, and when their men return from the wars theirs is the greatest relief. The worst terrors of some had been justified: their sons or husbands had been left lying far from the hillside burying grounds of home or had come back to them physical or mental wrecks. Many of these women understood precisely the sacrifice which had been made and the engagement it signified, but others could think of the war only with bitterness and found all the talk about organizing a new world society on the ruins of their own lives an unacceptable recompense for such direct and simple tragedy. Most of the fortunate majority whose men returned alive and uninjured were grateful and proud. But often they imagined either that problems of national policy lay too far outside the range of their own experience to be comprehended or else decided that the plans for a brave new world were too theoretical to be directly important in their private lives and too grandiose to depend for fulfillment on their modest support. They joined their husbands in asking nothing better than to face together the familiar tasks and problems of the old world.
These generalizations would be wrong if they left the impression that the A.E.F. as a whole had been short of idealism. When the actual fighting was over, the doughboys wanted to go home, and once they got there they became absorbed in their millions of different personal problems of readjustment. But so long as there was a job to be done they did it with the traditional American dash. They paid respectful attention to such attempts as were made to tell them how it had come about that, contrary to any desires of their own and despite the efforts of their government, they had found themselves fighting in Europe. On their behalf be it noted that these attempts at indoctrination were belated, meagre and unrealistic. Furthermore, if the education which they had received before they entered the army had left them almost totally unacquainted with the realities of the world in which they were to live, that had not been their fault so much as a result of the general lag in the American people's coming of age.
On Thanksgiving Day 1918, a few weeks after the victory, an American officer wrote a letter home from France. "It is wonderful," he said, "what our country has accomplished -- and it must be especially pleasing to those who, like myself, have felt the sting of the national shortcomings. Instead of a great overgrown nation of self-centered, money-mad, egotistical people, torn by the nation's sectionalism, living an existence of sheer bluff, our country is now strong in its newly acquired ability to do more than bluff. . . . We have . . . gained respect and confidence where before we had tolerance. That is the big thing to be thankful for." And he added: "These men over here were big."
When Hanson Baldwin printed this letter in his column in the New York Times on Thanksgiving Day 1942, he gave no indication of the developments which might have occurred in the officer's mind in the intervening 24 years. Did some of the policies advocated in that time by certain veterans' groups make him feel that the unselfish idealism for which he had given thanks in 1918 had been deliberately betrayed? If so, he was wrong. By and large, the fault of the men who had been with him over there was no different in that period of fluctuating national standards and values from that of their compatriots who had stayed behind, whether in training camps or civilian life. So long as they lived, none of them would ever forget the great experience of which they had been a part; but they had not ever understood clearly why the ordeal had been necessary, and they mixed up the victory which the country held momentarily in its hands with the peace of which they had dreamed. They took for granted that from the single fact of victory would flow automatically all the good things they craved and had fought for, including and above all peace in their time and for their children.
Plainly there was no need in 1919 for American preachers to remind their congregations of the Biblical injunction to forgive one's enemies. Civilians and ex-servicemen alike had found reasons of their own to begin practising that Christian virtue. And many not only forgave them, but also forgot the basic reason why they had fought them. Because it takes two to wage a war the American people had supposed that it takes two to start one. The events of 1917 had given a demonstration to the contrary, but this had upsetting implications and Americans endeavored to think about them as little as possible.
President Wilson had gone to extremes in the effort to keep the country out of war. He had sent Germany many notes, first persuasive, then stern, to try to dissuade her from attacking American ships on the high seas. He had relied on diplomacy to counteract German activities against the United States in certain Latin American countries, especially Mexico. He had taken direct action to halt von Papen's spying and Boy-Ed's sabotage, but had limited it to the specific cases and had not let it interfere with the continuance of relations with their chief, Ambassador von Bernstorff, or the government which gave them their instructions. He had been so patient with Germany that Theodore Roosevelt had taunted him with cowardice. Besides working to keep the country neutral in action, Wilson had expressed the desire that it remain neutral even in thought. The hope, of course, had been unrealistic from the start, and properly. It was not in the nature of Americans to suspend intellectual judgment when international treaties were broken or to censor their emotions of disgust when inhuman outrages were committed against peaceable populations. Any idea that they might do so went glimmering as German officers and officials in the occupied countries proceeded to shoot hostages, deport people en masse, institute forced labor and authorize plunder and rape as instruments of Schrecklichkeit.
Just as Germany defeated Wilson's attempt to keep the country neutral in thought, so, eventually, did she defeat his program for maintaining neutrality in deed. To cut off Britain and France from supplies in the western hemisphere she deliberately decided to risk making an enemy of the United States. Her decision to resume indiscriminate U-boat sinkings, without bothering to identify the nationality of the vessel or warn the crew, on the calculation that this would bring her more advantage than any possible American retaliation could do her harm, extinguished the President's hope for continuing passably good relations between the two countries and turned his patience to flaming anger.
The lesson was obvious. A foreign nation, even one whose economy and manpower reserves are intrinsically weaker than yours, may decide to gamble on your peaceful disposition and unpreparedness and may adopt policies which little by little leave you with only a single choice -- to fight regardless of your initial disadvantage or to submit to the equivalent of defeat without a fight. If the gambler nation pursues its policy with enough skill and caution it may even persuade you not to remedy your weakness, stressing that any steps you might take would risk provoking the very conflict you wish to avoid.
But for many Americans a single demonstration was not enough. They seized on the suggestion that Wilson's failure might have resulted from his ineptness or from the machinations of secret financial interests which wanted war, or, on the other hand, might have been due to altogether exceptional stupidity on Germany's part. If the latter, Germany had certainly been permanently cured of her obtuseness, they thought, and so spectacularly that all other nations would take care in future to be wiser. They were simply not prepared to admit that, however much they hated war, however wasteful and wicked they thought it, and however innocent their intentions and unoffending their actions, if some other nation should choose to impose its will on them at the risk of war, fight that nation they must, whether or not they were ready and whether or not they wished; and that the only alternative would be to bow to its conditions, the conditions of a victor.
The tendency to fix on secondary factors as the real cause of what finally came about on April 6, 1917, resulted in many cases from nothing more than the American people's desire to protect their self-respect. To admit that Germany had chosen to antagonize them after a careful weighing of risks meant acknowledging that she had considered them too gullible or too divided to be able to take political decisions and that she had rated their armed forces as presenting a merely incidental hazard, to be disposed of at leisure after she had brought her more important enemies to their knees. It also meant acknowledging that Wilson's policy of neutrality had all along been doomed to failure except at the price of capitualting to every German requirement and accepting any German indignity. This admission would have led, in turn, to the humiliating conclusion that the security of the western hemisphere had rested, partly at any rate, on two factors over which the United States could not exercise direct control -- the strength of the British fleet and a division of power on the Continent of Europe.
The easiest way of avoiding a conclusion which would have called for a radical and distasteful change in American foreign policy was to alter the premise and to suppose, not that the country had been forced into the war against its will and despite the strenuous efforts of its government, but that it either had entered it spontaneously, with a crusader's fine disregard of costs and consequences, or had been edged into it by the President's blunders. Both these were appealing and both were seized on, sometimes even simultaneously. A difficulty with the second, it might be supposed, would have been that it could be maintained only by deliberately ignoring the real nature and logical conclusions of the German program. Many Americans were persuaded, however, that Germany's success in subjugating all the great military and naval Powers of Europe would not have put the United States on the spot militarily. Those who could perform this mental feat could equally well shut their eyes to the damage which would have been done to America's spiritual and cultural inheritance if Wilson's hatred of war had led him to stand aside indefinitely while Prussian militarism stamped on the peoples of Europe and dragged their civilizations up by the roots.
It was human enough to wish to avoid admitting that the United States had found itself in a position of extreme danger at the end of 1916 and the beginning of 1917, and to assume that the German menace, now safely defeated, had originated from a unique concatenation of circumstances rather than the familiar interplay of dissatisfaction and rapacity on the one hand and self-satisfaction and naïveté on the other. The wish, excusable or not, resulted in the unfortunate decision that nothing specific had to be done to make certain that a similar peril (or even the same one) would not present itself in the future.
The allegation is not being made that Americans are the only naïve people in the world. Every nation which is pleased with itself and satisfied with its lot is under a serious psychological handicap in attempting to understand and deal with nations which are not. A nation which is pleased and satisfied can afford to be, and often is, reasonable. The trouble is that it places reason so high in its own scale of values that it tends to forget how attractive unreason may become to those who feel that their talents and virtues and corresponding deserts are forever being ignored by the rest of the world. The satisfied nation pictures itself as being consistently guided by enlightened self-interest and supposes that all other great nations in the modern world must be guided in a similar manner and that the word self-interest has the same meaning to them as it has for it. It remains optimistic about this even when other nations give every indication of having reached such a peak of aggravation and frustration that they might easily risk all the profits accumulated from years of hard work on a single gambler's throw of the dice.
The usual psychological handicaps lay especially heavily on the United States. For over a hundred years the country had not been menaced from abroad. Because many bloods mingled in the veins of its inhabitants their pride was not in one race but in a fusion of races. They knew nothing of the sense of injury that festers in a crowded continent where all the people of each race are not collected inside their own frontiers and so can never marshal their total racial strength in the struggle for survival or get full credit for their racial virtues in the arena of competing cultures. Americans assumed that their own quarters would always remain ample and that their own economy would continue to expand, fed from its own apparently limitless resources. They were grateful for the protective expanses of the Atlantic and Pacific, and hardly noticed how rapidly old geographical barriers were being surmounted. All this made it hard for them to imagine that some day again a powerful nation might abandon its effort to satisfy its needs, psychological as well as material, through negotiation, coöperation, hard work and humdrum competition and turn instead to the hazardous way of unreason, the way of war. They did not want to plan what they would do if that happened, or to think about what might be done to them if they did not plan in time.
Of course, more conscious and purposeful forces were also at work in the country, fostering the easy rationalizations of the day. Realizing that the national mood was bound to change quickly once the fighting was over, practical politicians had laid their plans not simply to ride the new tides but, whenever a chance offered, to augment and exploit them. By far the most practical of the practical politicians, as things turned out, were the clique of Republican Senators who dominated the majority party in the Senate and held the key positions there. Their control of the parliamentary procedure enabled them to arrange for the Covenant to be twice defeated with reservations attached, although the two-thirds of the membership necessary for ratification undoubtedly favored it with reservations of some sort; and they achieved the downfall of Wilson and his program without dangerously antagonizing the country, which at the start was generally agreed to be overwhelmingly favorable to the League. By the end of the long Senate debate, which lasted from July 10, 1919, when Wilson submitted the Treaty of Versailles for ratification, until March 19, 1920, the date of the final vote on the Covenant with the so-called Lodge reservations attached, the country was so confused and bored that it no longer remembered whether it had favored the League originally or not. As a matter of fact, that vote settled the issue, despite the President's statement that the coming election would constitute a great and solemn referendum; for candidate Harding's straddle on the League question was so successful that there was no chance for the voters to register any opinion in that connection. The fact failed to annoy them, or even, in most cases, to attract their attention.[ii]
The retreat from reality which has been described in these pages was accentuated by the profound and instinctive hatred of all Americans for war per se. On every count that hatred was reasonable and right. Besides the traditional humanitarian reasons for hating war, too, thousands of men and women had personal cause to know that it was just as ghastly as sermons and textbooks had always described it, while millions of others had found it the apotheosis of tedium and waste. Without reason or right, however, were the new slogans coined to increase, if that were possible, the unpopularity of war -- "in war nobody wins" and "war never settles anything." Their sponsors never paused to notice, of course, that the United States had won its independence in one war and settled the fact that it would remain a national union in another. Their obsession with the moral wrongness of war had simply brought their intellectual processes to a standstill and made them unable to distinguish between the different possible functions of force in human affairs. They could not conceive that the proper organization of force for purposes of peace might turn the balance against the abuse of force for purposes of war.
The confusion between pacifism and peace added to the ease with which Americans rationalized the course they yearned instinctively to follow. Gradually, in popular imagination, the United States became a sort of cork floating in an enormous thermos bottle, insulated from fluctuating temperatures and pressures without and exercising as little influence on them as they in turn could have on it. The idea that the bottle itself could be smashed seemed preposterous.
The generation which had fought and won the war, after comprehending so much in detail, committed the sin of comprehending nothing in the large; and, after performing so many brave and unselfish deeds, committed the sin of failing to insist that they be carried to their logical end. Its sins have been visited upon its children. Will the children now go and sin likewise? Will they condemn their children, in turn, to the same sufferings which they and their fathers had to endure? That will be mainly for them to say. We from the last generation can tell them, however, how it was done last time, and we can pray that this time they will not miss the chance to use their victory.
[i] In the course of ten or fifteen years American foreign correspondents were to become, by and large, the best body of trained observers in the world, superior as a group to those of any other country (not, of course, in individual instances; no American would be rated as superior in courage to an Ebbutt or in perspicacity to a "Pertinax") and usually a jump ahead of the average diplomat in appraising the trend of international events.
[ii] The story of the long struggle in the Senate has often been told and will not be repeated here. Personal and party responsibilities were deeply involved, and no appraisal of them would be fair unless it went into great detail.