The Last Phase of the Great War:
The German Invasion of America—A. D. 1915-1916
From "The History of the Twentieth Century"
By Simon Hardcastle, New York, A. D. 2014
(Edited by Ray Stannard Baker)
[The American Magazine, January 1915]
The chief question left undecided by the great War of 1914-15 was the attitude of the United States of America, the strongest of the nations not directly involved in the conflict. In the earlier stages of the war the Americans had maintained a strict neutrality of action, if not of opinion. This policy was in accordance with a well-established principle in American diplomacy of avoiding entangling alliances with foreign nations; and it appealed, moreover, to the shrewd sense of a practical people, for it afforded them an opportunity, while their neighbors were quarreling, of extending their commerce and developing their industry. Their supposed remoteness from the scene of action had given them that feeling of security which was favorable to a detached and philosophical view of the terrible events in Europe, There was in America at this time a powerful though still somewhat yeasty upgrowth of idealism which, never itself having been subjected to the fiery tests of fear or of force, was inclined to take an attitude of superior morality, and to be harsh in its condemnation of Europe. It was intensely anti-military, democratic, humanitarian—alloyed and hardened by a keen sense of what was best for its own practical interests.
It was not until the success of Germany in the Great War began to seem assured that public confidence in the United States was really shaken. The preponderance of American sympathy all along had favored the allied forces of France, England, and Russia, and it was calmly assumed by nearly everyone, though admitting that the struggle would be long and furious, that in the end Germany must suffer defeat. It was not sufficiently realized in America, in spite of a widespread admiration for the qualities of thoroughness and persistency which characterize the German people, how carefully they had prepared themselves during forty years of prosperous peace for just such a struggle as the Great War.
Moreover, America still had such an abiding faith in the ocean which had so long been her protection that she not only borrowed no fears for herself, but, spurred onward by public opinion, she yielded to the temptation of expressing more and more openly her sympathy with the Allies, and thus braved the increasing hostility of the German generals.
It was not until Germany's war machine, operating both on and under the water and through the air, landed its troops on British soil, not until it moved triumphantly into London, not until the German Kaiser at the pinnacle of victory paused to survey the smoking expanse of his new empire, that a sudden chill of fear descended upon the American people. The genius of military mechanism had bridged the English Channel; what if it could now bridge the Atlantic Ocean? At the moment the German machine of war seemed to be as irresistible as it was terrifying. The whole world seemed about to fall before the eagles of the German Kaiser.
Nor was this feeling in the United States mere idle fear. There was every reason why William the German should match swords at once with the American people. He and his army had won an enormous prestige throughout the earth. He now had at his command a seasoned army of veteran soldiers, while his fleet, largely augmented by ships captured when the English, French and Russian fleets were destroyed, was the most powerful the world had ever seen.
Only one power upon the earth remained to threaten the German dream. How was it possible for her to come into possession of the richest of all the British colonies, the Dominion of Canada, without meeting the determined hostility of the United States? Or could she realize her dream of a Germanized South America without equally running counter to the Monroe doctrine, so long a matter of cardinal faith with the American people?
These immediate considerations, however, important as they seemed at the time, did not compare in seriousness with those deeper, more fundamental differences in point of view between the Germans and the Americans, which had been growing clearer and clearer as the war progressed. The German leaders recognized instinctively that the ideal of American civilization was unalterably opposed to the German ideal. What Germany wanted was to rule other people, and its method was force; while America desired, most of all, to have all people rule themselves, and its method was education. Germany desired subjects, but America wanted friends. While Germany had been seeking more colonies to govern, a larger "place in the sun," America had been patiently training such colonies as had accidentally fallen into her control to rule themselves, with the purpose of withdrawing her forces as soon as possible.
She had already restored self-government to the Cubans, and was seeking to do the same with the Filipinos. She had refused to be drawn into a war of conquest in Mexico, but had patiently done her best to help the Mexicans on their way toward a higher type of self-government. After the war in China, she threw her mighty influence toward preserving the integrity of the Chinese Empire, and even returned to that stricken nation the $10,000,000 of indemnity growing out of the Boxer uprising. She had lived on terms of friendship with her weaker neighbor to the north, so that there was not a gun or a fortification in the three thousand miles of frontier which lay between them, nor even a gunboat patrolling the common waters.
Now these two ideals of government, the one autocratic and based upon force, and the other democratic and based upon friendship, were absolutely contradictory, and could not long exist side by side upon the earth.
The United States, from a military point of view, was weak. Being a democracy, it did not and could not place its faith in "reeking tube and iron shard," and it seemed, therefore, an easy prey to a hostile army and to generals drunk with the love of conquest. Even in time of peace its navy had not been the equal of the German navy, and since the victory in Europe its inferiority, compared with the augmented German fleet, made it almost negligible. The American army was beneath contempt—scarcely a hundred thousand well-trained men compared with several million seasoned veterans of Germany. While the fortifications around or near American cities were tolerable for the time and had been enormously costly, the experience of the struggle in Europe had shown conclusively that no forts could long stand before the huge modern guns of the Germans.
It was clear enough, then, to William of Germany that this was the propitious moment to strike. Given a year or two and the Americans, with their vast resources, would build fleets and train armies. If they were to be subdued they must be subdued, or at least forced into an alliance, while they were unprepared.
There was still another reason for striking at once. This was the vast riches of America in food, clothing, fuel, money, manufactured articles—every thing that was now necessary in the rehabilitation of devastated Europe. To the imagination of the generals who had imposed indemnities upon Brussels and Antwerp, Paris and London, the thought of the riches of New York, Philadelphia and Chicago was immeasurably alluring. It is scarcely necessary to suggest that this situation, which was now clearly perceptible to all Americans, came as an indescribable shock to that powerful body of idealism in America which had for so long dreamed of international peace, had fought armament, had protested against every proposition to add to the navy or enlarge the standing army. Fear for a time made the nation a prey to the primitive emotions. It seemed, after all, that tooth and claw, not friendship, not brotherhood, not democracy, ruled the world. In that moment of fire and terror, everything in the American ideal that was not made of the asbestos of truth went up in smoke.
The panic, while it lasted, was the most violent that the American nation had ever known. It represented the sudden convulsion caused by the emergence of a tremendous new idea—that America could no longer rely for protection upon the Atlantic Ocean, that she could thrive no longer upon her magnificent isolation, nor entertain ideals or theories, however beautiful to contemplate, which she could protect from the rude tests of world experience. She was no favored child of civilization, after all!
When the the panic had somewhat subsided, two parties arose in the counsels of the nation. The first was the War Party, overwhelmingly powerful, breathing hatred toward Germany, demanding instant armament and the preparation of the country to shed its last drop of blood and spend its last dollar in repelling the foreign invader. The other was the Peace Party, so weak at first as to be scarcely worthy the name of party.
In the earlier days of the panic, the very fact that any peace advocate dared show his head was a matter for scorn and anathema. It was more than that—it was treason.
One of the most popular leaders of that day was General Jonathan Lockwood, a man of energetic and daring nature who, by virtue of his fame as an orator, had acquired great power over the people. While a radical in his utterances, unfamiliar problems always prompted him to the application, not of new remedies, but of old ones. When the German invasion was threatened he became at once an advocate of force, and a champion of war. He assumed naturally the leadership of the War Party and became its candidate for the Presidency for the year 1916, and by the force of his oratory swept the country before him.
It was no time, now, he argued, for divided counsels, or for advancing what he termed sentimental ideas; this was stern business; this was war, and war must be met with war, and blood with blood. He compared the American nation unfavorably with the Germans, and showed how in Germany at the call to war the great body of Socialists and dreamers, who had been advocating international peace, had at once thrown aside their Utopian ideas, rushed to arms, and died for their country. How heroic was this act! How noble to fight for what they did not believe in for the sake of the flag! It had been the same in France, while even in England only three or four men of any consequence—a scholar, Morley; a labor leader, Burns; and a historian, Trevelyan, had foolishly, yes, traitorously, deserted the service of their country through their devotion to chimerical ideals. There was a time, indeed, for ideals of peace, but not in time of war!
Never had all the arguments for war been more persuasively marshaled than they were at that moment by General Lockwood. His words, indeed, thrilled the entire nation.
It was a woman who first dared brave this tempest of war fury, a woman whose name will be as ineffaceable from the pages of history as that of Joan of Arc. Above any other woman she was the representative of the influence of women in American Government, which, even before the Great War, was coming to be of profound importance. It was Mary Owen's speech at Chicago which brought together the scattered forces of the Peace Party. It was her appeal to the enlightened feeling of civilization, as well as the unanswerable logic with which she presented the principles of democracy, that ultimately directed the course of action of that great nation. She said in her epochal speech: "I am against war. I was against war, on principle, in times of peace; how much more am I against war, now that it threatens us with the horrors we have so recently beheld upon the battlefields of Europe. If a principle is worth believing, it is worth living by, it is worth dying for. Nations are destroyed by great ideas apprehended but not lived up to. We are a democratic people; we believe in peace; we believe in work, not in war. We have no hereditary caste to be served by war: and we do not believe that the common people of any nation have ever in civilized times, profited in any way by war. We believe war to be an unmitigated evil.
"They ask us to kill this neighbor of ours, the German. They ask us to hate, burn, destroy. I will say to the Germans that I do not hate them; I have no cause to hate them; and I refuse to kill them. I refuse to kill them, and then hide my stained hands in the folds of any flag."
This speech aroused a storm of protest. Newspaper's commented bitterly upon it, orators jeered at it, and so great was the popular emotion, due to the panic fear of war, that mobs formed in Chicago and, marching to the home of Mary Owen among the tenements of the poor, they stoned her windows, and having burst in her door scattered her possessions in the streets of the city. If she had been found that night she would have paid for her courage with her blood. For a moment, in that tempest, many of the hard-earned guarantees of democracy, such as the right of the free expression of ideas, were ruthlessly swept away, and every brutal passion burst upward through the thin crust of civilization.
But Mary Owen's bold words had not been lost: men began to say to themselves, "This is the truth; no matter what the crisis, this is the truth." And gradually a group of the bolder spirits who had grown impatient with the national habit of prating about beliefs and never acting upon them began to gather around Mary Owen; voices began to speak out in various parts of the nation. It was then that Mary Owen, by the power of her calm insistence upon the fundamental ideas of democracy, rose to be the commanding figure in the growing Party of Peace.
She laid down the principle that there can be no such thing as a purely defensive war; that war, once invoked, is unmitigated war; that war, whatever the apologetic name with which it is tagged, lets loose every brutal, lawless, and anarchical passion of the human heart. It is the downfall of civilization, the enthronement of barbarity: it stimulates hatred, cruelty, murder, theft, lust. She showed that he who takes the sword must perish by the sword, and that armament, whether used defensively or offensively, does not save nations, but destroys them. She met the silly argument for armament as a means of reserving peace by pointing at the smoking fields, the ruined cities, the orphaned children and the weeping widows of Europe,—the monument to that absurd obsession,— and showed that those who fought defensively had suffered equally with those who fought offensively. She showed that war never really settled anything, and that, in the long run, nations must, be content to succeed by virtue of thought, of work, of service—not by force.
It is not the intent of this history to deal at length with the work of that extraordinary woman; everyone knows how her influence spread. It began at the bottom among that class of men who, curiously enough, having the least to gain by war, had always been the first chosen to shed their blood in war, and it also spread widely among women, who, since the beginning of history, had borne most of the sorrow and suffering of war—and had hitherto borne it without protest. Overnight, as it were, a small iron symbol, a plowshare, cast from swords captured in a previous war, began to appear on the breasts of thousands of women and upon the coats of thousands of men. The society, which was at first secret, called "The Order of the Plowshare," the motto being, "Work, not War," spread rapidly throughout the country. Most of the newspapers were desperately opposed to it, as were most of the politicians, and yet it continued to rise like a great wave from underneath.
To the War Party, led by General Lockwood, the movement appeared not short of traitorous. A whole people in revolt against war at the very moment of invasion by a foreign nation! It was cowardice, it was degeneracy!
As we now see it, with the calm perspective of a hundred years, it was not so miraculous as it appeared to be. For generations in America the people had been training themselves to familiarity with the principles of democracy, and had been trying to practice those principles in their politics. They had never accustomed themselves to the idea of war or of conquest, nor learned to feel awe for uniforms, nor even acquired the habit of deference to military officers. Moreover, beyond any other country, America was occupied by diverse peoples who, having labored side by side at common tasks, had grown to know and respect one another.
Why should it be a surprise, therefore, that a people so trained should suddenly desire to act upon a well-founded principle of their common life? The glamour of war had quite simply fallen from their eyes as the reason for, it had vanished, and they saw it for what it was in all its stark horror, saw that it was not only criminal and beastly, but childish.
It must not be assumed, however, that the Party of Peace was immediately triumphant. The nation was torn asunder by the violence of the conflict. General Lockwood powerfully denounced the rising party as the attempt to "enthrone a myth" and its leaders as "insane dreamers." His most persuasive appeal, however, was his demand upon Mary Owen and her followers for a practical program. "We admire Mary Owen," said he, "for her lofty devotion to ideals; but we are a practical people. We believe in realities. We demand a specific program. Will Mary Owen inform us what we are to do here in New York City when William the Kaiser lands his men upon our shores? Will she tell us what we shall do when he marches up Broadway, when he takes possession of our City Hall, when he demands our accumulated treasure and seizes our ships for the transportation of the food and fuel and gold which he takes from our unresisting hands?"
This was indeed a powerful challenge. As General Lockwood had said, the Americans were a practical people, for, while they assumed to believe in the highest teachings of their religion and their civilization, they had never practiced them.
This challenge Mary Owen responded with noble simplicity. "They ask us for a program," she said in her great speech at Baltimore, "and we will give them our program. It may be stated in the simplest terms. We shall not murder. We shall not, by arming ourselves, provoke others to murder us. They accuse us of cowardice and treason. We have already risked death because we dared to express our faith, and we are now prepared to risk not only our lives, but the future of this nation, in behalf of principles which we believe to be true. We know that devotion to truth is a finer heritage to leave to our children and to the world than devotion to any flag or any nation—for nations rise and fall, but the truth is eternal. We therefore stand ready, before God and in the light of what we know to be the noblest teaching of God, to die for our faith either at the hands of our countrymen or at the hands of a foreign army. We believe in the essential teaching of Christianity, and we purpose now to practice it. They boast of their willingness to die in war; but we assert our equal willingness—nay, our passion—to die for a far greater thing—for Peace.
"As for treason, let us ask which of us is traitorous to his country, he who rejects the highest teachings he knows and descends to the methods of barbarity, who kindles in the hearts of men the passion of hatred, and the thirst for blood, or he who stands like a rock for the higher life of the nation and of humanity? This is the supreme moment of destiny for America. Will she serve her age by practicing what she believes, or will she throw her principles to the winds, and descend to the savagery of war? Let us now stand upon truth, and trust in the justice of God."
It would be fruitless and perhaps tiresome at the distance of a century to recount more fully the arguments for truths which are now so universally accepted. It is enough to say that the Peace Party, under the magical leadership of Mary Owen, grew with astounding rapidity, and when the struggle finally centered in Congress General Lockwood and his followers were amazed at the power of the opposition.
In the midst of the struggle, at its most dramatic climax, the President of the United States, a man of the noblest ideals and the most unselfish devotion, appeared one day before the American Senate wearing upon his coat the iron plowshare of the Party of Peace. It was discovered on the same day that all but two of the members of the cabinet were wearing the same insignia. It is difficult to describe the impression upon the country of the news of this event, for the influence of the President at that time upon the Government was profound.
It is not necessary to recount fully the debates that followed. At that great moment men were lifted out of themselves, parties and private interests were forgotten,—even the selfish and narrow interests of the nation were for the moment set aside, and the problem of what was best for humanity, for civilization, came, for the first time in history, to be seriously discussed in a great legislative forum.
In two weeks' time the disarmament of the fleet—save for a few of the lesser vessels which might be needed for police service—had begun, and the disarmament of the forts and of the army rapidly followed.
It is a remarkable fact, but at the moment of action and under the stimulus of a great idea the country suddenly drew together in unity. A call to war could not have cemented the people more firmly. While many members of the War Party still considered the course of the nation to be cowardly and even suicidal, they nevertheless perceived that even this course had practical advantages. The country was not prepared for war and could not hope to be prepared for years to come, and in the meantime, if it defied Germany, it must suffer the most appalling losses of men and of property. The idealists might indeed be crazy, but they had at least a definite plan, and if that failed there was still time to revolt!
It will be found that every idealistic advance in civilization is composed of two human factors: men of vision who are on fire with a great principle, and men of unimaginative common sense, who are convinced only by the logic of events—those who pull, and those who are pushed. It is not until an ideal course is also seen to be the sensible course that it can be carried through. There is no unmixed motive in human affairs.
A few irreconcilables, as usual, refused to abide by the judgment of the country. Most of them belonged to that class of men of big property interests, or of unearned incomes, who had been the loudest of any in their demands that large numbers of other people should immediately enlist for war, and they now realized all they could in gold upon their possessions, and fled to Siam, Chile and Madagascar, the only places where there was no immediate danger of war. A few, following their usual shrewd policy of joining the party that is likely to win, even went to Germany, where they felt that their interests would be protected by a strong Government. In the great events which followed they were not missed.
During these weeks of excitement in America the German Kaiser had been organizing his armada for the attack upon the United States. He and his generals heard with amazement and incredulity of the events in America. They could not believe the reports sent out by the press, and spies in great number were dispatched to the principal centers to test the sentiment of the country. None of the customary signs of preparation for war was in evidence. No one was engaged in breaking the windows of the German consulates or in raiding German bakeshops, but on the contrary a large number of Americans were asserting their friendship for the German people, and their abhorrence of war in any form. No one was proposing to smother the acts of Government in secrecy or to censor the newspapers, for the people through years of practice in the free discussion of their affairs had grown suspicious of anything which needed to be hidden in darkness. They believed in "pitiless publicity." The German spies were therefore allowed to circulate freely in Congress and to send full reports to the Kaiser. Having no wish to steal anything or murder anybody, what reason had Americans to hunt spies or to cloak their deeds in darkness?
It was a strange thing, however, that in spite of all this publicity, the German generals, judging the leadership of other nations by their own, were filled with suspicion. They could not understand what was going on in America. It was either a crazed fanaticism or else some colossal and ghastly trick, and the more they considered it the more fearful they grew, for the very basis of war is the fear that other people are secretly plotting to do to you what you are secretly plotting to do to them. Hearing of the secret society known as the Order of the Plow and its vast membership, they leaped at once to the conclusion that this was the darkness and mystery they sought.
June the fourth, 1916, will ever be one of the great dates in history. On that day, after many imaginary alarms, the German armada appeared off the coast of Long Island. The officers had expected to be assailed with torpedoes, or mines, or flying machines, or to meet some other mysterious engine of destruction, for war makes men superstitious. But as they drew near they saw no warships, only a few sailing boats dotting the horizon. It was a perfect spring morning, and they could see through their glasses the pleasant green fields and the low hills of the American shore.
Just as they were about to let down their first landing boat the entire fleet was thrown into consternation by the appearance near the entrance to New York Harbor of a long, low craft, painted gray. It was a torpedo boat destroyer. At once the great ships of the Germans prepared for action, but it was discovered that the destroyer carried at its prow a flag of truce. After many cautious formalities the captain of the destroyer, with the President's representative, was allowed to come aboard the flagship. They were received by the German admiral and the German general in full uniform. They presented an official communication from the President of the United States which set forth with simple dignity the position of the American people: They desired only the friendship of the German people—"of whom more than ten million are already among our friends and fellow-citizens." They had been unable to discover any good reason for fighting or killing the Germans, and they therefore refused to do it. In response to a powerful conviction that war, whether offensive or defensive, was wrong, the nation had disarmed, and purposed to remain disarmed. The communication closed with these nobly simple words: "We are your friends. We ask you to be ours."
While this proposition was received by the German officers with astonishment and scorn, it also increased their suspicion and fear. They had been warned against the wily American! This was, no doubt, the trap the Kaiser feared. With much frigid formality the Germans rejected the President's communication. They began at once the laborious task of landing their men, a small party at first, which instantly dug itself into the sand hills, preparing against attack. Then followed horses, wagons, guns, supplies, ammunition. They proceeded with the greatest caution, but save for a few groups of curious Americans looking on from the distance, they saw no one: and no one appeared to oppose them.
It was remarkable at this, crisis, there being no armed resistance upon the part of the Americans, how simply the ordinary relationships of human beings began to reassert themselves. The interior of that portion of Long Island was at that time occupied by extensive market gardens, and no sooner were the Germans well landed than the wagons of the hucksters, loaded with fresh vegetables and fruit, began to venture up to the lines. To troops that had been long at sea on dry army rations, the sight of these wagons proved almost irresistible; but the officers, still fearing, some colossal trick, forbade the soldiers to trade with these merchants. They actually feared poison!
However, the soldiers soon discovered that many of the hucksters were German or of German origin, and soon fell to talking and joking familiarly with them. It was not long before the fresh green cabbages, turnips and rhubarb began to circulate through the camp and were even smuggled to the tables of the officers. Other merchants, hearing of the golden opportunity for trade, began to appear in great numbers with fresh bread, meat, milk and the like, and it was not long before the commissaries were making regular purchases for the provisioning of the troops. There being no armed men among the Americans and no spirit of hostility, there was no incentive to kill any of them.
Scouting parties sent out through the country found nowhere any sign of opposition. A troop of uhlans were even hailed by a crowd of young men at a roadhouse, and after amiable bantering, they were treated to beer! An armored motor car, bristling with rapid-fire guns, which had the misfortune to break down while scouting near Coney Island, was soon surrounded by the cars of friendly Americans who offered the courtesies of the road.
Soon the railroads began to run excursions out from New York, and thousands of Americans crowded every low hill to watch the Germans busily digging trenches in the peaceful meadows. Also the American newspapers, especially those printed in German, began to circulate secretly in the camp, and there being no censorship the German soldiers were able to see exactly what lay in the minds of the American people. They found out that while there existed a great diversity of opinion, the determination not to fight but to be friendly was deep-seated.
It was in reality, however, a greater crisis for Americans than appeared on the surface, for it required a far finer steadiness of nerve and a sounder courage to meet this hair-trigger situation than would have been required in the fury and panic of war. At any moment some untoward incident might happen, some excuse be given for carnage. If the Germans began to kill citizens and destroy property, could the people still be trusted to maintain their self-control? And how was it all coming out?
The first German army had orders to entrench itself and await the arrival of the second army with Field Marshal von Schwab, who was to begin the offensive campaign. News of the remarkable situation at the Long Island camp having been cabled to the Kaiser his suspicion and incredulity were heightened, and he despatched Marshal von Schwab with renewed warnings.
Marshal von Schwab was the most finished product of military training. He had been a soldier all his life, and he believed in war for war's sake. He believed that war was not only a necessity but a blessing—the only method by which the strong survived in the world and the weak were obliterated, according to the law of nature.
"Make war a hell and have it over with," was his motto.
Nothing could exceed the anger, then, of Marshal von Schwab when he landed on Long Island. The situation was disgraceful, treasonable!
Of all the discoveries that he made the one that chiefly aroused his rage was the report of the commissary. He found that his forces were purchasing supplies from the Americans at the rate of over ten thousand dollars a day, and this did not include the large private expenditures of the troops. At top prices, too! He raged and he fumed. Did they call this war? Give these Yankee traders time and they would bankrupt the Empire!
"But what could we do?" asked the commanding general. "They would not fight, and according to the rules of civilized war, we must pay non-combatants for supplies."
"Civilized war! War is not civilized. Not fight! We'll give them a touch of blood and iron!"
On the following day Marshal von Schwab sent a detachment, under a flag of truce, to New York City, and in one of the most truculent documents ever penned he demanded that the Mayor pay over within forty-eight hours an indemnity of $30,000,000—the cost of the invasion to date. In default of this payment he would instantly seize the City Government.
This document, which was intended to spread terror in America, had a remarkable psychological effect. If it had come immediately upon the landing of the German troops it might have frightened the Americans into convulsive resistance. But in the meantime, the terrible strain of the earlier days had somewhat relaxed, the papers had been publishing at length the accounts of the friendly relationships between the Americans and the German army. At first these accounts had been marked by great discretion and sobriety, but they soon became familiar, indeed almost humorous. The nation had been through such a strain of anxiety that relief of some sort—if not war, some other wild emotion—was inevitable.
At this moment came Marshal von Schwab's bumptious ultimatum with its awe-inspiring references to the German Kaiser and to the God who was guiding the German arms. It was not only the document of a very angry man, but its medieval tone struck curiously upon the American ear.
A very small and insignificant fuse often explodes a vast magazine. In this case, the instrument was the editorial in a New York newspaper of a writer named George Hobbs, an Arizonian, a big, bluff, confident man with the cool humor of the West. It was his editorial, a very little thing in itself, that set the country off. He handled von Schwab's ultimatum with delicious irony, advised the immediate payment of the indemnity upon the ground that the "war" so far was cheap at the price, "especially in view of the fact that the German armies have already largely increased the trade of Long Island." He met the threat of the German commander to seize the City Government of New York by observing that the Government of that city had long been in the hands of what was probably a far less efficient control than the Germans could give it. It was known throughout the world that German municipal government was unexcelled: was it not possible that a German expert in the City Hall, by improving upon the methods of Tammany, could save all of the indemnity in a year or so? As for the fear of German domination, had not the city long been governed by the Irish and the Jews—and had anyone objected?
The extreme nervous tension of the nation suddenly broke, not in war, but in an irresistible and colossal burst of laughter. The sense of humor of the American people had been touched as it had never been touched before. They laughed at themselves, they laughed at the Germans, they laughed at the solemn gathering of the Peace Party in New York to discuss the crisis, and they laughed at war.
Now laughter is as contagious as fear. The whole world had been watching with amazement the reports of the extraordinary and even ridiculous reception of the German armies in America. They had read the raging manifestoes of von Schwab and the accounts of the American response to them. Suddenly an infectious burst of laughter swept the whole world.
Even the stoical Chinaman began to laugh, the first real laugh that that downtrodden human being had had in a thousand years, more or less. He laughed because the Western nations had suddenly risen to a belief that was already ancient in China. Never had there been such laughter before: it was the first world-joke. In an instant the whole paraphernalia of war, the whole absorption of grown-up human beings in devising machinery to kill one another, seemed the utterly childish and unreasonable thing that it really was.
The Americans had been the first nation to laugh dueling out of existence; and they now began the laugh that was to end war.
Marshal von Schwab's unfought armies began to disintegrate. They were weary of war, and while they could meet bullets with fortitude and think of themselves as heroes, they could not stand the laughter and ridicule of the world. Their own situation suddenly became clear to them. They saw, in all its grim humor, the inconceivably absurd practice of the German autocrats in sending out their most precious and valuable citizens—their poets, musicians, chemists, and the like—to be shot at by machinery, the very men upon whom, in the event that their armies conquered the earth, they must rely to enforce upon alien people that German kultur which they worshiped. Many invaluable bacteriologists, novelists, college professors, athletes, and the like had already been killed; but some still remained, and among these the spirit of revolt soon became irresistible. What was glory or the flag, what were colonies or culture, compared with the incomparably precious lives, of trained human beings?
At this juncture juncture, American manufacturers and business men, seeing the golden opportunity for securing the most priceless addition to their equipment—skilled human beings—began bidding for the services of these Germans, offering them wages and salaries quite beyond their dreams. Having already absorbed some ten million Germans, who became the best of American citizens, it was without difficulty that every man in the German armies who wished to do so found a place at this time in American life.
The most tragic figure in this final defeat of war was the German marshal, von Schwab. In a wild diatribe he expressed his undying convictions regarding modern civilization, and then fled to the interior of Asia, where among the savage tribes of Turkestan, he hoped to find some remaining spot where war was properly honored. In this final burst of passion he said that he had long felt some such outcome to be inevitable. Civilization had grown soft, hatred had become commercialized, war was rotten with pity. He said he knew that the Germans would lose, when they began to defend themselves upon the charges of destroying Louvain, when they sought to excuse themselves for their course in crushing Belgium, and dropping bombs upon Antwerp. War had lost confidence in its own logic, had begun to cringe and hide behind sentimental moralities—and this was the inevitable outcome! If they had followed his advice, there would have been no such contempt for war. Why entertain weak compunctions about destroying cathedrals and killing women and children? To be respected, war must be made the hell that it really is!
Thus passed Marshal von Schwab, a bluff and honest defender of an ancient order.
Thus passed Marshal von Schwab, Genuine laughter always leaves men with a new sobriety of vision, a new wisdom. It was so with the world after the absurd German invasion of America. Hardly had the echoes of that world laughter subsided when the American Peace Party, led by Mary Owen, began that sensible reconstructive movement which led up to the Federation of the World as we now know it.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald