12 Complete Works of Owen Wister
A Straight Deal
How Doth the Simple Spelling Bee
Red Men and White
The Dragon of Wantley
The Jimmyjohn Boss
The Pentecost of Calamity
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Owen Wister: The Complete Works
A Straight Deal
How Doth the Simple Spelling Bee
Red Men and White
The Dragon of Wantley
The Jimmyjohn Boss
The Pentecost of Calamity
A Straight Deal, by Owen Wister
A STRAIGHT DEAL
THE ANCIENT GRUDGE
To Edward and Anna Martin who give help in time of trouble
: Concerning One's Letter Box
Publish any sort of conviction related to these morose days through which we are living and letters will shower upon you like leaves in October. No matter what your conviction be, it will shake both yeas and nays loose from various minds where they were hanging ready to fall. Never was a time when so many brains rustled with hates and panaceas that would sail wide into the air at the lightest jar. Try it and see. Say that you believe in God, or do not; say that Democracy is the key to the millennium, or the survival of the unfittest; that Labor is worse than the Kaiser, or better; that drink is a demon, or that wine ministers to the health and the cheer of man--say what you please, and the yeas and nays will pelt you. So insecurely do the plainest, oldest truths dangle in a mob of disheveled brains, that it is likely, did you assert twice two continues to equal four and we had best stick to the multiplication table, anonymous letters would come to you full of passionate abuse. Thinking comes hard to all of us. To some it never comes at all, because their heads lack the machinery. How many of such are there among us, and how can we find them out before they do us harm? Science has a test for this. It has been applied to the army recruit, but to the civilian voter not yet. The voting moron still runs amuck in our Democracy. Our native American air is infected with alien breath. It is so thick with opinions that the light is obscured. Will the sane ones eventually prevail and heal the sick atmosphere? We must at least assume so. Else, how could we go on?
: What the Postman Brought
During the winter of 1915 I came to think that Germany had gone dangerously but methodically mad, and that the European War vitally concerned ourselves. This conviction I put in a book. Yeas and nays pelted me. Time seems to show the yeas had it.
During May, 1918, I thought we made a mistake to hate England. I said so at the earliest opportunity. Again came the yeas and nays. You shall see some of these. They are of help. Time has not settled this question. It is as alive as ever--more alive than ever. What if the Armistice was premature? What if Germany absorb Russia and join Japan? What if the League of Nations break like a toy?
Yeas and nays are put here without the consent of their writers, whose names, of course, do not appear, and who, should they ever see this, are begged to take no offense. None is intended.
There is no intention except to persuade, if possible, a few readers, at least, that hatred of England is not wise, is not justified to-day, and has never been more than partly justified. It is based upon three foundations fairly distinct yet meeting and merging on occasions: first and worst, our school histories of the Revolution; second, certain policies and actions of England since then, generally distorted or falsified by our politicians; and lastly certain national traits in each country that the other does not share and which have hitherto produced perennial personal friction between thousands of English and American individuals of every station in life. These shall in due time be illustrated by two sets of anecdotes: one, disclosing the English traits, the other the American. I say English, and not British, advisedly, because both the Scotch and the Irish seem to be without those traits which especially grate upon us and upon which we especially grate. And now for the letters.
The first is from a soldier, an enlisted man, writing from France.
"Allow me to thank you for your article entitled 'The Ancient Grudge.' ... Like many other young Americans there was instilled in me from early childhood a feeling of resentment against our democratic cousins across the Atlantic and I was only too ready to accept as true those stories I heard of England shirking her duty and hiding behind her colonies, etc. It was not until I came over here and saw what she was really doing that my opinion began to change.
"When first my division arrived in France it was brigaded with and received its initial experience with the British, who proved to us how little we really knew of the war as it was and that we had yet much to learn. Soon my opinion began to change and I was regarding England as the backbone of the Allies. Yet there remained a certain something I could not forgive them. What it was you know, and have proved to me that it is not our place to judge and that we have much for which to be thankful to our great Ally.
"Assuring you that your ... article has succeeded in converting one who needed conversion badly I beg to remain...."
How many American soldiers in Europe, I wonder, have looked about them, have used their sensible independent American brains (our very best characteristic), have left school histories and hearsay behind them and judged the English for themselves? A good many, it is to be hoped. What that judgment finally becomes must depend not alone upon the personal experience of each man. It must also come from that liberality of outlook which is attained only by getting outside your own place and seeing a lot of customs and people that differ from your own. A mind thus seasoned and balanced no longer leaps to an opinion about a whole nation from the sporadic conduct of individual members of it. It is to be feared that some of our soldiers may never forget or make allowance for a certain insult they received in the streets of London. But of this later. The following sentence is from a letter written by an American sailor:
"I have read... 'The Ancient Grudge' and I wish it could be read by every man on our big ship as I know it would change a lot of their attitude toward England. I have argued with lots of them and have shown some of them where they are wrong but the Catholics and descendants of Ireland have a different argument and as my education isn't very great, I know very little about what England did to the Catholics in Ireland."
Ireland I shall discuss later. Ireland is no more our business to-day than the South was England's business in 1861. That the Irish question should defeat an understanding between ourselves and England would be, to quote what a gentleman who is at once a loyal Catholic and a loyal member of the British Government said to me, "wrecking the ship for a ha'pennyworth of tar."
The following is selected from the nays, and was written by a business man. I must not omit to say that the writers of all these letters are strangers to me.
"As one American citizen to another... permit me to give my personal view on your subject of 'The Ancient Grudge'...
"To begin with, I think that you start with a false idea of our kinship-- with the idea that America, because she speaks the language of England, because our laws and customs are to a great extent of the same origin, because much that is good among us came from there also, is essentially of English character, bound up in some way with the success or failure of England.
"Nothing, in my opinion, could be further from the truth. We are a distinctive race--no more English, nationally, than the present King George is German--as closely related and as alike as a celluloid comb and a stick of dynamite.
"We are bound up in the success of America only. The English are bound up in the success of England only. We are as friendly as rival corporations. We can unite in a common cause, as we have, but, once that is over, we will go our own way--which way, owing to the increase of our shipping and foreign trade, is likely to become more and more antagonistic to England's.
"England has been a commercially unscrupulous nation for generations and it is idle to throw the blame for this or that act of a nation on an individual. Such arguments might be kept up indefinitely as regards an act of any country. A responsible nation must bear the praise or odium that attaches to any national action. If England has experienced a change of heart it has occurred since the days of the Boer Republic--as wanton a steal as Belgium, with even less excuse, and attended with sufficient brutality for all practical purposes....
"She has done us many an ill turn gratuitously and not a single good turn that was not dictated by selfish policy or jealousy of others. She has shown herself, up till yesterday at least, grasping and unscrupulous. She is no worse than the others probably--possibly even better--but it would be doing our country an ill turn to persuade its citizens that England was anything less than an active, dangerous, competitor, especially in the infancy of our foreign trade. When a business rival gives you the glad hand and asks fondly after the children, beware lest the ensuing emotions cost you money.
"No: our distrust for England has not its life and being in pernicious textbooks. To really believe that would be an insult to our intelligence-- even grudges cannot live without real food. Should England become helpless tomorrow, our animosity and distrust would die to-morrow, because we would know that she had it no longer in her power to injure us. Therein lies the feeling--the textbooks merely echo it....
"In my opinion, a navy somewhat larger than England's would practically eliminate from America that 'Ancient Grudge' you deplore. It is England's navy--her boasted and actual control of the seas--which threatens and irritates every nation on the face of the globe that has maritime aspirations. She may use it with discretion, as she has for years. It may even be at times a source of protection to others, as it has--but so long as it exists as a supreme power it is a constant source of danger and food for grudges.
"We will never be a free nation until our navy surpasses England's. The world will never be a free world until the seas and trade routes are free to all, at all times, and without any menace, however benevolent.
"In conclusion ... allow me to again state that I write as one American citizen to another with not the slightest desire to say anything that may be personally obnoxious. My own ancestors were from England. My personal relations with the Englishmen I have met have been very pleasant. I can readily believe that there are no better people living, but I feel so strongly on the subject, nationally--so bitterly opposed to a continuance of England's sea control--so fearful that our people may be lulled into a feeling of false security, that I cannot help trying to combat, with every small means in my power, anything that seems to propagate a dangerous friendship."
I received no dissenting letter superior to this. To the writer of it I replied that I agreed with much that he said, but that even so it did not in my opinion outweigh the reasons I had given (and shall now give more abundantly) in favor of dropping our hostile feeling toward England.
My correspondent says that we differ as a race from the English as much as a celluloid comb from a stick of dynamite. Did our soldiers find the difference as great as that? I doubt if our difference from anybody is quite as great as that. Again, my correspondent says that we are bound up in our own success only, and England is bound up in hers only. I agree. But suppose the two successes succeed better through friendship than through enmity? We are as friendly, my correspondent says, as two rival corporations. Again I agree. Has it not been proved this long while that competing corporations prosper through friendship? Did not the Northern Pacific and the Great Northern form a combination called the Northern Securities, for the sake of mutual benefit? Under the Sherman Act the Northern Securities was dissolved; but no Sherman act forbids a Liberty Securities. Liberty, defined and assured by Law, is England's gift to the modern world. Liberty, defined and assured by Law, is the central purpose of our Constitution. Just as identically as the Northern Pacific and Great Northern run from St. Paul to Seattle do England and the United States aim at Liberty, defined and assured by Law. As friends, the two nations can swing the world towards world stability. My correspondent would hardly have instanced the Boers in his reference to England's misdeeds, had he reflected upon the part the Boers have played in England's struggle with Germany.
I will point out no more of the latent weaknesses that underlie various passages in this letter, but proceed to the remaining letters that I have selected. I gave one from an enlisted man and one from a sailor; this is from a commissioned officer, in France.
"I cannot refrain from sending you a line of appreciation and thanks for giving the people at home a few facts that I am sure some do not know and throwing a light upon a much discussed topic, which I am sure will help to remove from some of their minds a foolish bigoted antipathy."
Upon the single point of our school histories of the Revolution, some of which I had named as being guilty of distorting the facts, a correspondent writes from Nebraska:
"Some months ago... the question came to me, what about our Montgomery's History now.... I find that everywhere it is the King who is represented as taking these measures against the American people. On page 134 is the heading, American Commerce; the new King George III; how he interfered with trade; page 135, The King proposes to tax the Colonies; page 136, 'The best men in Parliament--such men as William Pitt and Edmund Burke-- took the side of the colonies.' On page 138, 'William Pitt said in Parliament, "in my opinion, this kingdom has no right to lay a tax on the colonies... I rejoice that America has resisted"'; page 150, 'The English people would not volunteer to fight the Americans and the King had to hire nearly 30,000 Hessians to help do the work.... The Americans had not sought separation; the King--not the English people--had forced it on them....'
"I am writing this... because, as I was glad to see, you did not mince words in naming several of the worse offenders." (He means certain school histories that I mentioned and shall mention later again.)
An official from Pittsburgh wrote thus:
"In common with many other people, I have had the same idea that England was not doing all she could in the war, that while her colonies were in the thick of it, she, herself, seemed to be sparing herself, but after reading this article... I will frankly and candidly confess to you that it has changed my opinion, made me a strong supporter of England, and above all made me a better American "
"It is well to remind your readers of the errors--or worse--in American school text books and to recount Britain's achievements in the present war. But of what practical avail are these things when a man so highly placed as the present Secretary of the Navy asks a Boston audience (Tremont Temple, October 30, 1918) to believe that it was the American navy which made possible the transportation of over 2,000,000 Americans to France without the loss of a single transport on the way over? Did he not know that the greater part of those troops were not only transported, but convoyed, by British vessels, largely withdrawn for that purpose from such vital service as the supply of food to Britain's civil population?"
The omission on the part of our Secretary of the Navy was later quietly rectified by an official publication of the British Government, wherein it appeared that some sixty per cent of our troops were transported in British ships. Our Secretary's regrettable slight to our British allies was immediately set right by Admiral Sims, who forthwith, both in public and in private, paid full and appreciative tribute to what had been done. It is, nevertheless, very likely that some Americans will learn here for the first time that more than half of our troops were not transported by ourselves, and could not have been transported at all but for British assistance. There are many persons who still believe what our politicians and newspapers tell them. No incident that I shall relate further on serves better to point the chief international moral at which I am driving throughout these pages, and at which I have already hinted: Never to generalize the character of a whole nation by the acts of individual members of it. That is what everybody does, ourselves, the English, the French, everybody. You can form no valid opinion of any nation's characteristics, not even your own, until you have met hundreds of its people, men and women, and had ample opportunity to observe and know them beneath the surface. Here on the one hand we had our Secretary of the Navy. He gave our Navy the whole credit for getting our soldiers overseas.
He justified the British opinion that we are a nation of braggarts. On the other hand, in London, we had Admiral Sims, another American, a splendid antidote. He corrected the Secretary's brag. What is the moral? Look out how you generalize. Since we entered the war that tribe of English has increased who judge us with an open mind, discriminate between us, draw close to a just appraisal of our qualities and defects, and possibly even discern that those who fill our public positions are mostly on a lower level than those who elect them.
I proceed with two more letters, both dissenting, and both giving very typically, as it seems to me, the American feeling about England-- partially justified by instances mentioned by my correspondent, but equally mentioned by me in passages which he seems to have skipped.
"Lately I read and did not admire your article... 'The Ancient Grudge.' Many of your statements are absolutely true, and I recognize the fact that England's help in this war has been invaluable. Let it go at that and hush!
"I do not defend our own Indian policy.... Wounded and disabled in our Indian wars... I know all about them and how indefensible they are.....
"England has been always our only legitimate enemy. 1776? Yes, call it ancient history and forget it if possible. 1812? That may go in the same category. But the causes of that misunderstanding were identically repeated in 1914 and '15.
"1861? Is that also ancient? Perhaps--but very bitter in the memory of many of us now living. The Alabama. The Confederate Commissioners (I know you will say we were wrong there--and so we may have been technically-- but John Bull bullied us into compliance when our hands were tied). Lincoln told his Cabinet 'one war at a time, Gentlemen' and submitted....
"In 1898 we were a strong and powerful nation and a dangerous enemy to provoke. England recognized the fact and acted accordingly. England entered the present war to protect small nations! Heaven save the mark! You surely read your history. Pray tell me something of England's policy in South Africa, India, the Soudan, Persia, Abyssinia, Ireland, Egypt. The lost provinces of Denmark. The United States when she was young and helpless. And thus, almost to- infinitum.
"Do you not know that the foundations of ninety per cent of the great British fortunes came from the loot of India? upheld and fostered by the great and unscrupulous East India Company?
"Come down to later times: to-day for instance. Here in California... I meet and associate with hundreds of Britishers. Are they American citizens? I had almost said, 'No, not one.' Sneering and contemptuous of America and American institutions. Continually finding fault with our government and our people. Comparing these things with England, always to our disadvantage......
"Now do you wonder we do not like England? Am I pro-German? I should laugh and so would you if you knew me."
To this correspondent I did not reply that I wished I knew him--which I do--that, even as he, so I had frequently been galled by the rudeness and the patronizing of various specimens, high and low, of the English race. But something I did reply, to the effect that I asked nobody to consider England flawless, or any nation a charitable institution, but merely to be fair, and to consider a cordial understanding between us greatly to our future advantage. To this he answered, in part, as follows:
"I wish to thank you for your kindly reply.... Your argument is that as a matter of policy we should conciliate Great Britain. Have we fallen so low, this great and powerful nation?... Truckling to some other power because its backing, moral or physical, may some day be of use to us, even tho' we know that in so doing we are surrendering our dearest rights, principles, and dignity!... Oh! my dear Sir, you surely do not advocate this? I inclose an editorial clipping.... Is it no shock to you when Winston Churchill shouts to High Heaven that under no circumstances will Great Britain surrender its supreme control of the seas? This in reply to President Wilson's plea for freedom of the seas and curtailment of armaments.... But as you see, our President and our Mr. Daniels have already said, 'Very well, we will outbuild you.' Never again shall Great Britain stop our mail ships and search our private mails. Already has England declared an embargo against our exports in many essential lines and already are we expressing our dissatisfaction and taking means to retaliate "
Of the editorial clipping inclosed with the above, the following is a part:
"John Bull is our associate in the contest with the Kaiser. There is no doubt as to his position on that proposition. He went after the Dutch in great shape. Next to France he led the way and said, 'Come on, Yanks; we need your help. We will put you in the first line of trenches where there will be good gunning. Yes, we will do all of that and at the same time we will borrow your money, raised by Liberty Loans, and use it for the purchase of American wheat, pork, and beef.'
"Mr. Bull kept his word. He never flinched or attempted to dodge the issue. He kept strictly in the middle of the road. His determination to down the Kaiser with American men, American money, and American food never abated for a single day during the conflict."
This editorial has many twins throughout the country. I quote it for its value as a specimen of that sort of journalistic and political utterance amongst us, which is as seriously embarrassed by facts as a skunk by its tail. Had its author said: "The Declaration of Independence was signed by Christopher Columbus on Washington's birthday during the siege of Vicksburg in the presence of Queen Elizabeth and Judas Iscariot," his statement would have been equally veracious, and more striking.
As to Winston Churchill's declaration that Great Britain will not surrender her control of the seas, I am as little shocked by that as I should be were our Secretary of the Navy to declare that in no circumstances would we give up control of the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal is our carotid artery, Great Britain's navy is her jugular vein. It is her jugular vein in the mind of her people, regardless of that new apparition, the submarine. I was not shocked that Great Britain should decline Mr. Wilson's invitation that she cut her jugular vein; it was the invitation which kindled my emotions; but these were of a less serious kind.
The last letter that I shall give is from an American citizen of English birth.
"As a boy at school in England, I was taught the history of the American Revolution as J. R. Green presents it in his Short History of the English People. The gist of this record, as you doubtless recollect, is that George III being engaged in the attempt to destroy what there then was of political freedom and representative government in England, used the American situation as a means to that end; that the English people, in so far as their voice could make itself heard, were solidly against both his English and American policy, and that the triumph of America contributed in no small measure to the salvation of those institutions by which the evolution of England towards complete democracy was made possible. Washington was held up to us in England not merely as a great and good man, but as an heroic leader, to whose courage and wisdom the English as well as the American people were eternally indebted... .
"Pray forgive so long a letter from a stranger. It is prompted... by a sense of the illimitable importance, not only for America and Britain, but for the entire world, of these two great democratic peoples knowing each other as they really are and cooperating as only they can cooperate to establish and maintain peace on just and permanent foundations."
: In Front of a Bulletin Board
There, then, are ten letters of the fifty which came to me in consequence of what I wrote in May, 1918, which was published in the American Magazine for the following November. Ten will do. To read the other forty would change no impression conveyed already by the ten, but would merely repeat it. With varying phraseology their writers either think we have hitherto misjudged England and that my facts are to the point, or they express the stereotyped American antipathy to England and treat my facts as we mortals mostly do when facts are embarrassing--side-step them. What best pleased me was to find that soldiers and sailors agreed with me, and not "high-brows" only.
May, 1918, as you will remember, was a very dark hour. We had come into the war, had been in for a year; but events had not yet taken us out of the well-nigh total eclipse flung upon our character by those blighting words, "there is such a thing as being too proud to fight." The British had been told by their General that they were fighting with their backs to the wall. Since March 23rd the tread of the Hun had been coming steadily nearer to Paris. Belleau Wood and Chateau-Thierry had not yet struck the true ring from our metal and put into the hands of Foch the one further weapon that he needed. French morale was burning very low and blue. Yet even in such an hour, people apparently American and apparently grown up, were talking against England, our ally. Then and thereafter, even as to-day, they talked against her as they had been talking since August, 1914, as I had heard them again and again, indoors and out, as I heard a man one forenoon in a crowd during the earlier years of the war, the miserable years before we waked from our trance of neutrality, while our chosen leaders were still misleading us.
Do you remember those unearthly years? The explosions, the plots, the spies, the Lucitania, the notes, Mr. Bryan, von Bernstorff, half our country--oh, more than half!--in different or incredulous, nothing prepared, nothing done, no step taken, Theodore Roosevelt's and Leonard Wood's almost the only voices warning us what was bound to happen, and to get ready for it? Do you remember the bulletin boards? Did you grow, as I did, so restless that you would step out of your office to see if anything new had happened during the last sixty minutes--would stop as you went to lunch and stop as you came back? We knew from the faces of our friends what our own faces were like. In company we pumped up liveliness, but in the street, alone with our apprehensions--do you remember? For our future's sake may everybody remember, may nobody forget!
What the news was upon a certain forenoon memorable to me, I do not recall, and this is of no consequence; good or bad, the stream of by- passers clotted thickly to read it as the man chalked it line upon line across the bulletin board. Citizens who were in haste stepped off the curb to pass round since they could not pass through this crowd of gazers. Thus this on the sidewalk stood some fifty of us, staring at names we had never known until a little while ago, Bethincourt, Malancourt, perhaps, or Montfaucon, or Roisel; French names of small places, among whose crumbled, featureless dust I have walked since, where lived peacefully a few hundred or a few thousand that are now a thousand butchered or broken-hearted. Through me ran once again the wonder that had often chilled me since the abdication of the Czar which made certain the crumbling of Russia: after France, was our turn coming? Should our fields, too, be sown with bones, should our little towns among the orchards and the corn fall in ashes amongst which broken hearts would wander in search of some surviving stick of property? I had learned to know that a long while before the war the eyes of the Hun, the bird of prey, had been fixed upon us as a juicy morsel. He had written it, he had said it. Since August, 1914, these Pan-German schemes had been leaking out for all who chose to understand them. A great many did not so choose. The Hun had wanted us and planned to get us, and now more than ever before, because he intended that we should pay his war bills. Let him once get by England, and his sword would cut through our fat, defenseless carcass like a knife through cheese.
A voice arrested my reverie, a voice close by in the crowd. It said, "Well, I like the French. But I'll not cry much if England gets hers. What's England done in this war, anyway?"
"Her fleet's keeping the Kaiser out of your front yard, for one thing," retorted another voice.
With assurance slightly wobbling and a touch of the nasal whine, the first speaker protested, "Well, look what George III done to us. Bad as any Kaiser."
"Aw, get your facts straight!" It was said with scornful force. "Don't you know George III was a German? Don't you know it was Hessians-- they're Germans--he hired to come over here and kill Americans and do his dirty work for him? And his Germans did the same dirty work the Kaiser's are doing now. We've got a letter written after the battle of Long Island by a member of our family they took prisoner there. And they stripped him and they stole his things and they beat him down with the butts of their guns--after he had surrendered, mind--when he was surrendered and naked, and when he was down they beat him some more. That's Germans for you. Only they've been getting worse while the rest of the world's been getting better. Get your facts straight, man."
A number of us were now listening to this, and I envied the historian his ingenious promptness--I have none--and I hoped for more of this timely debate. But debate was over. The anti-Englishman faded to silence. Either he was out of facts to get straight, or lacked what is so pithily termed "come-back." The latter, I incline to think; for come-back needs no facts, it is a self-feeder, and its entire absence in the anti-Englishman looks as if he had been a German. Germans do not come back when it goes against them, they bleat "Kamerad!"--or disappear. Perhaps this man was a spy--a poor one, to be sure--yet doing his best for his Kaiser: slinking about, peeping, listening, trying to wedge the Allies apart, doing his little bit towards making friends enemies, just as his breed has worked to set enmity between ourselves and Japan, ourselves and Mexico, France and England, France and Italy, England and Russia, between everybody and everybody else all the world over, in the sacred name and for the sacred sake of the Kaiser. Thus has his breed, since we occupied Coblenz, run to the French soldiers with lies about us and then run to us with lies about the French soldiers, overlooking in its providential stupidity the fact that we and the French would inevitably compare notes. Thus too is his breed, at the moment I write these words, infesting and poisoning the earth with a propaganda that remains as coherent and as systematically directed as ever it was before the papers began to assure us that there was nothing left of the Hohenzollern government.
: "My Army of Spies"
"You will desire to know," said the Kaiser to his council at Potsdam in June, 1908, after the successful testing of the first Zeppelin, "how the hostilities will be brought about. My army of spies scattered over Great Britain and France, as it is over North and South America, will take good care of that. Even now I rule supreme in the United States, where three million voters do my bidding at the Presidential elections."
Yes, they did his bidding; there, and elsewhere too. They did it at other elections as well. Do you remember the mayor they tried to elect in Chicago? and certain members of Congress? and certain manufacturers and bankers? They did his bidding in our newspapers, our public schools, and from the pulpit. Certain localities in one of the river counties of Iowa (for instance) were spots of German treason to the United States. The "exchange professors" that came from Berlin to Harvard and other universities were so many camouflaged spies. Certain prominent American citizens, dined and wined and flattered by the Kaiser for his purpose, women as well as men, came back here mere Kaiser-puppets, hypnotized by royalty. His bidding was done in as many ways as would fill a book. Shopkeepers did it, servants did it, Americans among us were decorated by him for doing it. Even after the Armistice, a school textbook "got by" the Board of Education in a western state, wherein our boys and girls were to be taught a German version--a Kaiser version--of Germany. Somebody protested, and the board explained that it "hadn't noticed," and the book was held up.
We cannot, I fear, order the school histories in Germany to be edited by the Allies. German school children will grow up believing, in all prob- ability, that bombs were dropped near Nurnberg in July, 1914, that German soil was invaded, that the Fatherland fought a war of defense; they will certainly be nourished by lies in the future as they were nourished by lies in the past. But we can prevent Germans or pro-Germans writing our own school histories; we can prevent that "army of spies" of which the Kaiser boasted to his council at Potsdam in June, 1908, from continuing its activities among us now and henceforth; and we can prevent our school textbooks from playing into Germany's hand by teaching hate of England to our boys and girls. Beside the sickening silliness which still asks, "What has England done in the war?" is a silliness still more sickening which says, "Germany is beaten. Let us forgive and forget." That is not Christianity. There is nothing Christian about it. It is merely sentimental slush, sloppy shirking of anything that compels national alertness, or effort, or self-discipline, or self-denial; a moral cowardice that pushes away any fact which disturbs a shallow, torpid, irresponsible, self-indulgent optimism.
Our golden age of isolation is over. To attempt to return to it would be a mere pernicious day-dream. To hark back to Washington's warning against entangling alliances is as sensible as to go by a map of the world made in 1796. We are coupled to the company of nations like a car in the middle of a train, only more inevitably and permanently, for we cannot uncouple; and if we tried to do so, we might not wreck the train, but we should assuredly wreck ourselves. I think the war has brought us one benefit certainly: that many young men return from Europe knowing this, who had no idea of it before they went, and who know also that Germany is at heart an untamed, unchanged wild beast, never to be trusted again. We must not, and shall not, boycott her in trade; but let us not go to sleep at the switch! Just as busily as she is baking pottery opposite Coblenz, labelled "made in St. Louis," "made in Kansas City," her "army of spies" is at work here and everywhere to undermine those nations who have for the moment delayed her plans for world dominion. I think the number of Americans who know this has increased; but no American, wherever he lives, need travel far from home to meet fellow Americans who sing the song of slush about forgiving and forgetting.
Perhaps the man I heard talking in front of the bulletin board was one of the "army of spies," as I like to infer from his absence of "come-back." But perhaps he was merely an innocent American who at school had studied, for instance, Eggleston's history; thoughtless--but by no means harmless; for his school-taught "slant" against England, in the days we were living through then, amounted to a "slant" for Germany. He would be sorry if Germany beat France, but not if she beat England--when France and England were joined in keeping the wolf not only from their door but from ours! It matters not in the least that they were fighting our battle, not because they wanted to, but because they couldn't help it: they were fighting it just the same. That they were compelled doesn't matter, any more than it matters that in going to war when Belgium was invaded, England's duty and England's self-interest happened to coincide. Our duty and our interest also coincided when we entered the war and joined England and France. Have we seemed to think that this diminished our glory? Have they seemed to think that it absolved them from gratitude?
Such talk as that man's in front of the bulletin board helped Germany then, whether he meant to or not, just as much as if a spy had said it-- just as much as similar talk against England to-day, whether by spies or unheeding Americans, helps the Germany of to-morrow. The Germany of yesterday had her spies all over France and Italy, busily suggesting to rustic uninformed peasants that we had gone to France for conquest of France, and intended to keep some of her land. What is she telling them now? I don't know. Something to her advantage and their disadvantage, you may be sure, just as she is busy suggesting to us things to her advantage and our disadvantage--jealousy and fear of the British navy, or pro-German school histories for our children, or that we can't make dyes, or whatever you please: the only sure thing is, that the Germany of yesterday is the Germany of to-morrow. She is not changed. She will not change. The steady stream of her propaganda all over the world proves it. No matter how often her masquerading government changes costumes, that costume is merely her device to conceal the same cunning, treacherous wild beast that in 1914, after forty years of preparation, sprang at the throat of the world. Of all the nations in the late war, she alone is pulling herself together. She is hard at work. She means to spring again just as soon as she can.
Did you read the letter written in April of 1919 by her Vice-Chancellor, Mathias Erzberger, also her minister of finance? A very able, compact masterpiece of malignant voracity, good enough to do credit to Satan. Through that lucky flaw of stupidity which runs through apparently every German brain, and to which we chiefly owe our victory and temporary respite from the fangs of the wolf, Mathias Erzberger posted his letter. It went wrong in the mails. If you desire to read the whole of it, the International News Bureau can either furnish it or put you on the track of it. One sentence from it shall be quoted here:
"We will undertake the restoration of Russia, and in possession of such support will be ready, within ten or fifteen years, to bring France, without any difficulty, into our power. The march towards Paris will be easier than in 1914. The last step but one towards the world dominion will then be reached. The continent is ours. Afterwards will follow the last stage, the closing struggle, between the continent and the over- seas."
Who is meant by "overseas"? Is there left any honest American brain so fond and so feeble as to suppose that we are not included in that highly suggestive and significant term? I fear that some such brains are left.
Germans remain German. I was talking with an American officer just returned from Coblenz. He described the surprise of the Germans when they saw our troops march in to occupy that region of their country. They said to him: "But this is extraordinary. Where do these soldiers of yours come from? You have only 150,000 troops in Europe. All the other transports were sunk by our submarines." "We have two million troops in Europe," replied the officer, "and lost by explosion a very few hundred. No transport was sunk." "But that is impossible," returned the burgher, "we know from our Government at Berlin that you have only 150,000 troops in Europe."
Germans remain German. At Coblenz they were servile, cringing, fawning, ready to lick the boots of the Americans, loading them with offers of every food and drink and joy they had. Thus they began. Soon, finding that the Americans did not cut their throats, burn their houses, rape their daughters, or bayonet their babies, but were quiet, civil, disciplined, and apparently harmless, they changed. Their fawning faded away, they scowled and muttered. One day the Burgomaster at a certain place replied to some ordinary requisitions with an arrogant refusal. It was quite out of the question, he said, to comply with any such ridiculous demands. Then the Americans ceased to seem harmless. Certain steps were taken by the commanding officer, some leading citizens were collected and enlightened through the only channel whereby light penetrates a German skull. Thus, by a very slight taste of the methods by which they thought they would cow the rest of the world, these burghers were cowed instantly. They had thought the Americans afraid of them. They had taken civility for fear. Suddenly they encountered what we call the swift kick. It educated them. It always will. Nothing else will.
Mathias Erzberger will, of course, disclaim his letter. He will say it is a forgery. He will point to the protestations of German repentance and reform with which he sweated during April, 1919, and throughout the weeks preceding the delivery of the Treaty at Versailles. Perhaps he has done this already. All Germans will believe him--and some Americans.
The German method, the German madness--what a mixture! The method just grazed making Germany owner of the earth, the madness saved the earth. With perfect recognition of Belgium's share, of Russia's share, of France's, Italy's, England's, our own, in winning the war, I believe that the greatest and mast efficient Ally of all who contributed to Germany's defeat was her own constant blundering madness. Americans must never forget either the one or the other, and too many are trying to forget both.
Germans remain German. An American lady of my acquaintance was about to climb from Amalfi to Ravello in company with a German lady of her acquaintance. The German lady had a German Baedeker, the American a Baedeker in English, published several years apart. The Baedeker in German recommended a path that went straight up the ascent, the Baedeker in English a path that went up more gradually around it. "Mine says this is the best way," said the American. "Mine says straight up is the best," said the German. "But mine is a later edition," said the American. "That is not it," explained the German. "It is that we Germans are so much more clever and agile, that to us is recommended the more dangerous way while Americans are shown the safe path."
That happened in 1910. That is Kultur. This too is Kultur:
"If Silesia become Polish Then, oh God, may children perish, like beasts, in their mothers' womb. Then lame their Polish feet and their hands, oh God! Let them be crippled and blind their eyes. Smite them with dumbness and madness, both men and women." From a Hymn of German hate for the Poles.
Germany remains German; but when next she springs, she will make no blunders.
: The Ancient Grudge
It was in Broad Street, Philadelphia, before we went to war, that I overheard the foolish--or propagandist--slur upon England in front of the bulletin board. After we were fighting by England's side for our existence, you might have supposed such talk would cease. It did not. And after the Armistice, it continued. On the day we celebrated as "British Day," a man went through the crowd in Wanamaker's shop, asking, What had England done in the War, anyhow? Was he a German, or an Irishman, or an American in pay of Berlin?, I do not know. But this I know: perfectly good Americans still talk like that. Cowboys in camp do it. Men and women in Eastern cities, persons with at least the external trappings of educated intelligence, play into the hands of the Germany of to-morrow, do their unconscious little bit of harm to the future of freedom and civilization, by repeating that England "has always been our enemy." Then they mention the Revolution, the War of 1812, and England's attitude during our Civil War, just as they invariably mentioned these things in 1917 and 1918, when England was our ally in a struggle [or life, and as they will be mentioning them in 1940, I presume, if they are still alive at that time.
Now, the Civil War ended fifty-five years ago, the War of 1812 one hundred and five, and the Revolution one hundred and thirty-seven. Suppose, while the Kaiser was butchering Belgium because she barred his way to that dinner he was going to eat in Paris in October, 1914, that France had said, "England is my hereditary enemy. Henry the Fifth and the Duke of Wellington and sundry Plantagenets fought me"; and suppose England had said, "I don't care much for France. Joan of Arc and Napoleon and sundry other French fought me"--suppose they had sat nursing their ancient grudges like that? Well, the Kaiser would have dined in Paris according to his plan. And next, according to his plan, with the Channel ports taken he would have dined in London. And finally, according to his plan, and with the help of his "army of spies" overseas, he would have dined in New York and the White House. For German madness could not have defeated Germany's plan of World dominion, if various nations had not got together and assisted. Other Americans there are, who do not resort to the Revolution for their grudge, but are in a commercial rage over this or that: wool, for instance. Let such Americans reflect that commercial grievances against England can be more readily adjusted than an absorption of all commerce by Germany can be adjusted. Wool and everything else will belong to Mathias Erzberger and his breed, if they carry out their intention. And the way to insure their carrying it out is to let them split us and England and all their competitors asunder by their ceaseless and ingenious propaganda, which plays upon every international prejudice, historic, commercial, or other, which is available. After August, 1914, England barred the Kaiser's way to New York, and in 1917, we found it useful to forget about George the Third and the Alabama. In 1853 Prussia possessed one ship of war--her first.
In 1918 her submarines were prowling along our coast. For the moment they are no longer there. For a while they may not be. But do you think Germany intends that scraps of paper shall be abolished by any Treaty, even though it contain 80,000 words and a League of Nations? She will make of that Treaty a whole basket of scraps, if she can, and as soon as she can. She has said so. Her workingmen are at work, industrious and content with a quarter the pay for a longer day than anywhere else. Let those persons who cannot get over George the Third and the Alabama ponder upon this for a minute or two.
: Who Is Without Sin?
Much else is there that it were well they should ponder, and I am coming to it presently; but first, one suggestion. Most of us, if we dig back only fifty or sixty or seventy years, can disinter various relatives over whose doings we should prefer to glide lightly and in silence.
Do you mean to say that you have none? Nobody stained with any shade of dishonor? No grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-etc. grandfather or grandmother who ever made a scandal, broke a heart, or betrayed a trust? Every man Jack and woman Jill of the lot right back to Adam and Eve wholly good, honorable, and courageous? How fortunate to be sprung exclusively from the loins of centuries of angels--and to know all about them! Consider the hoard of virtue to which you have fallen heir!
But you know very well that this is not so; that every one of us has every kind of person for an ancestor; that all sorts of virtue and vice, of heroism and disgrace, are mingled in our blood; that inevitably amidst the huge herd of our grandsires black sheep as well as white are to be found.
As it is with men, so it is with nations. Do you imagine that any nation has a spotless history? Do you think that you can peer into our past, turn over the back pages of our record, and never come upon a single blot? Indeed you cannot. And it is better--a great deal better--that you should be aware of these blots. Such knowledge may enlighten you, may make you a better American. What we need is to be critics of ourselves, and this is exactly what we have been taught not to be.
We are quite good enough to look straight at ourselves. Owing to one thing and another we are cleaner, honester, humaner, and whiter than any people on the continent of Europe. If any nation on the continent of Europe has ever behaved with the generosity and magnanimity that we have shown to Cuba, I have yet to learn of it. They jeered at us about Cuba, did the Europeans of the continent. Their papers stuck their tongues in their cheeks. Of course our fine sentiments were all sham, they said. Of course we intended to swallow Cuba, and never had intended anything else. And when General Leonard Wood came away from Cuba, having made Havana healthy, having brought order out of chaos on the island, and we left Cuba independent, Europe jeered on. That dear old Europe!
Again, in 1909, it was not any European nation that returned to China their share of the indemnity exacted in consequence of the Boxer troubles; we alone returned our share to China--sixteen millions. It was we who prevented levying a punitive indemnity on China. Read the whole story; there is much more. We played the gentleman, Europe played the bully. But Europe calls us "dollar chasers." That dear old Europe! Again, if any conquering General on the continent of Europe ever behaved as Grant did to Lee at Appomattox, his name has escaped me.
Again, and lastly--though I am not attempting to tell you here the whole tale of our decencies: Whose hands came away cleanest from that Peace Conference in Paris lately? What did we ask for ourselves? Everything we asked, save some repairs of damage, was for other people. Oh, yes! we are quite good enough to keep quiet about these things. No need whatever to brag. Bragging, moreover, inclines the listener to suspect you're not so remarkable as you sound.
But all this virtue doesn't in the least alter the fact that we're like everybody else in having some dirty pages in our History. These pages it is a foolish mistake to conceal. I suppose that the school histories of every nation are partly bad. I imagine that most of them implant the germ of international hatred in the boys and girls who have to study them. Nations do not like each other, never have liked each other; and it may very well be that school textbooks help this inclination to dislike. Certainly we know what contempt and hatred for other nations the Germans have been sedulously taught in their schools, and how utterly they believed their teaching. How much better and wiser for the whole world if all the boys and girls in all the schools everywhere were henceforth to be started in life with a just and true notion of all flags and the peoples over whom they fly! The League of Nations might not then rest upon the quicksand of distrust and antagonism which it rests upon today. But it is our own school histories that are my present concern, and I repeat my opinion--or rather my conviction--that the way in which they have concealed the truth from us is worse than silly, it is harmful. I am not going to take up the whole list of their misrepresentations, I will put but one or two questions to you.
When you finished school, what idea had you about the War of 1812? I will tell you what mine was. I thought we had gone to war because England was stopping American ships and taking American sailors out of them for her own service. I could refer to Perry's victory on Lake Erie and Jackson's smashing of the British at New Orleans; the name of the frigate Constitution sent thrills through me. And we had pounded old John Bull and sent him to the right about a second time! Such was my glorious idea, and there it stopped. Did you know much more than that about it when your schooling was done? Did you know that our reasons for declaring war against Great Britain in 1812 were not so strong as they had been three and four years earlier? That during those years England had moderated her arrogance, was ready to moderate further, had placated us for her brutal performance concerning the Chesapeake, wanted peace; while we, who had been nearly unanimous for war, and with a fuller purse in 1808, were now, by our own congressional fuddling and messing, without any adequate army, and so divided in counsel that only one northern state was wholly in favor of war? Did you know that our General Hull began by invading Canada from Detroit and surrendered his whole army without firing a shot? That the British overran Michigan and parts of Ohio, and western New York, while we retreated disgracefully? That though we shone in victories of single combat on the sea and showed the English that we too knew how to sail and fight on the waves as hardily as Britannia (we won eleven out of thirteen of the frigate and sloop actions), nevertheless she caught us or blocked us up, and rioted unchecked along our coasts? You probably did know that the British burned Washington, and you accordingly hated them for this barbarous vandalism--but did you know that we had burned Toronto a year earlier?
I left school knowing none of this--it wasn't in my school book, and I learned it in mature years with amazement. I then learned also that England, while she was fighting with us, had her hands full fighting Bonaparte, that her war with us was a sideshow, and that this was uncommonly lucky for us--as lucky quite as those ships from France under Admiral de Grasse, without whose help Washington could never have caught Cornwallis and compelled his surrender at Yorktown, October 19, 1781. Did you know that there were more French soldiers and sailors than Americans at Yorktown? Is it well to keep these things from the young? I have not done with the War of 1812. There is a political aspect of it that I shall later touch upon--something that my school books never mentioned.
My next question is, what did you know about the Mexican War of 1846-1847, when you came out of school? The names of our victories, I presume, and of Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott; and possibly the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, whereby Mexico ceded to us the whole of Texas, New Mexico, and Upper California, and we paid her fifteen millions. No doubt you know that Santa Anna, the Mexican General, had a wooden leg. Well, there is more to know than that, and I found it out much later. I found out that General Grant, who had fought with credit as a lieutenant in the Mexican War, briefly summarized it as "iniquitous." I gradually, through my reading as a man, learned the truth about the Mexican War which had not been taught me as a boy--that in that war we bullied a weaker power, that we made her our victim, that the whole discreditable business had the extension of slavery at the bottom of it, and that more Americans were against it than had been against the War of 1812. But how many Americans ever learn these things? Do not most of them, upon leaving school, leave history also behind them, and become farmers, or merchants, or plumbers, or firemen, or carpenters, or whatever, and read little but the morning paper for the rest of their lives?
The blackest page in our history would take a long while to read. Not a word of it did I ever see in my school textbooks. They were written on the plan that America could do no wrong. I repeat that, just as we love our friends in spite of their faults, and all the more intelligently because we know these faults, so our love of our country would be just as strong, and far more intelligent, were we honestly and wisely taught in our early years those acts and policies of hers wherein she fell below her lofty and humane ideals. Her character and her record on the whole from the beginning are fine enough to allow the shadows to throw the sunlight into relief. To have produced at three stages of our growth three such men as Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, is quite sufficient justification for our existence
: Tarred with the Same Stick
The blackest page in our history is our treatment of the Indian. To speak of it is a thankless task--thankless, and necessary.
This land was the Indian's house, not ours. He was here first, nobody knows how many centuries first. We arrived, and we shoved him, and shoved him, and shoved him, back, and back, and back. Treaty after treaty we made with him, and broke. We drew circles round his freedom, smaller and smaller. We allowed him such and such territory, then took it away and gave him less and worse in exchange. Throughout a century our promises to him were a whole basket of scraps of paper. The other day I saw some Indians in California. It had once been their place. All over that region they had hunted and fished and lived according to their desires, enjoying life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We came. To-day the hunting and fishing are restricted by our laws--not the Indian's--because we wasted and almost exterminated in a very short while what had amply provided the Indian with sport and food for a very long while.
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