Americanism

"Of all the countries in the world, we and we only have any need to create artificially the patriotism which is the birthright of other nations."

The Yale Review quotes the remark of a 'foreigner' that Americans are always saying, 'I don't care.' The phrase is popular and sounds disheartening; but if we spare ourselves concern over trivial things (if, for example, we were not excited or inflamed by Captain von Papen's calling us 'idiotic Yankees'), it does not follow that big issues leave us unmoved. If they did, if they ever should, the word Americanism might as well be obliterated from the language. The consistent nationalism for which it stands admits of no indifference. It is true that the possible peril of New York- as defenseless as a softshell crab, and as succulent—is not an ever-present care to San Francisco. It is true that San Francisco's deep anxiety over Japanese immigration and land-ownership was lightly treated by New York. And it is true that Denver, sitting in the safety zone, looks down from her lofty heights without any pressing solicitude about either of her sister cities. But just as the San Francisco earthquake wrung the heart of New York, so the first gun fired at New York would arm the citizens of San Francisco. Only it might then be too late.

The Christmas cartoon of Uncle Sam holding a package marked 'Peace and Prosperity,' and saying with a broad smile, 'Just what I wanted!' was complacent rather than comprehensive. We want peace and we want prosperity, but they are not all we want; partly because their permanency depends upon certain corollaries, and partly because we do not, any more than other men, live by bread alone. The things of the spirit are for us, even as for heroic and suffering France, of vital worth and import. If we could say with certainty, 'All is gained but honor,' there are still some of us who would feel our blessings incomplete; but, as it chances, the contempt meted out to us has taken the palpable form of encroachment upon our common rights. Until we can protect our industries from assault and our citizens from butchery, until we can couple disavowal of past injuries with real assurance of safety in the future, peace limps, and prosperity is shadowed. With every fresh shock we have received, with every fresh sorrow we have endured, there has come to us more and more clearly the vision of a noble nationalism, purged of 'comfort-mongering,' and of perverted sentiment.

Cynical newspaper writers have begun to say that the best way to make Americans forget one injury is to inflict on them another. This is hardly a half-truth. The sinking of the Ancona did not obliterate from our minds the names of the Falaba, the Gulflight, the Frye, the Hesperian, the Arabic, and the Lusitania. Neither has the sinking of the Persia buried the Ancona in oblivion. And it is not simple humanity which has burned these names into the tablets of our memories. The loss of American lives through the savage torpedoing of liners and merchant ships might be doubled and trebled any summer day by the sinking of an excursion steamer, and we should soon forget. A country which reports eight thousand murders in a single year is not wont to be deeply stirred by the perils which beset our munition-workers. But when Americans have gone to their deaths though the violence of another government, or in the interests of another government, then the wrong done them is elevated to the importance of a national calamity, and redress becomes a national obligation. Because we do not wearily reiterate this patent truth does not mean that we have forgotten it. If words could save, if words could heal, we should have no fear, or shame, or sorrow. Nothing is less worth while than to go on prattling about a consistent foreign policy. The cornerstone of civilization is man's dependence for protection on the state which he has reared for his own safety and support.

The concern of Americans for America (I use the word to symbolize the United States) must be the deep and loyal sentiment which brooks no injustice and no insult. We have need of many things, but first and foremost of fidelity. It is a matter of pride and pleasure that some of our foreign-born citizens should excel in art and letters; that, under our tutelage, they should learn to design posters, model statuary, write poems, and make speeches. These things have their admitted place and value. The encouragement which is given them, the opportunities which are made for them, the praise which is lavished upon them, are proofs of our good-will, and of our genuine delight in fostering ability. But the real significance of the 'Americanization' movement, the summoning of conferences, the promoting of exhibitions, the bestowing of prizes, is the need we all feel of unification, the hope we all cherish that, through the influence of congenial work, immigrants and the children of immigrants will become one in spirit with the native-born. We could make shift to do without the posters and the symbolic statuary; we could read fewer poems and listen to fewer speeches; but we cannot possibly do without the loyalty which we have a right to demand, and which is needful to the safety of the Republic.

For the main thing to be borne in mind is that Americanization does not mean only an increase of opportunity for the alien, an effort toward his permanent well-being. It means also service and sacrifice on his part. This is what citizenship entails, although voters and those who clamor for the vote seldom take into account such an inexorable truth. The process of assimilation must go deeper than the polling booth and the trade union can carry it. Democracy forever teases us with the contrast between its ideals and its realities, between its heroic possibilities and its sorry achievements. But it is our appointed road, and the stones over which we perpetually stumble deny us the drowsy perils of content. When we read Dr. Eliot's noble words in praise of free government and equal opportunities, we know that his amazing buoyancy does not imply ignorance of primaries, of party methods, and of graft. With these things he has been familiar all his life; but the creaking machinery of democracy has never dimmed his faith in its holiness. Remediable disorders, however grievous and deep-seated, afford us the comfort of hope, and the privilege of unending exertion.

To no one ignorant of history can the right of citizenship assume any real significance. In our country the ballot is so carelessly guarded, so shamefully misused, that it has become to some men a subject of derision, to many, an unconsidered trifle, to all, or almost all, an expression of personal opinion, which, at its best, reflects a popular newspaper, and, at its worst, stands for nothing less hurtful than stupidity. A recent contributor to the Unpopular Review reminds us soberly that, as the democratic state cannot rise above the level of its voters, and as nationality means for us merely the will of the people, it might not be amiss to guard the franchise with reasonable solicitude, and to ask something more than unlimited ignorance and the absence of a criminal record as its price. If every man—alien or native-born—who casts his ballot could be made to know and to feel that all the political forces of his country were mainly occupied for a hundred years in making that act possible,' and that the United States is, and has always been, the nation of those 'who willed to be Americans,' citizenship might become for us what it was to Rome, what it is to France,—the interpretation of honor, the symbol of self-sacrifice.

A knowledge of history might also prove serviceable in enabling us to recognize our place and our responsibility among the nations of the world. No remoteness (geographical remoteness counts for little in the twentieth century) can sever our interests from the interests of Europe, or lift from our shoulders the burden of helping to sustain the collective rights of mankind. We know now that the menace of frightfulness has overshadowed us. We know that, however cautiously we picked our steps, we could not, and did not escape insult and injury. But even if we had saved our own skin, if we had suffered no destruction of property, and if none of our dead lay under the water, the freedom of Europe, the future of democracy, and the rights of man would be to us matters of concern.

It is true, moreover, that friendship and alliance with those European states whose aspirations and ideals respond to our own aspirations and ideals are as consistent with Americanism as are friendship and alliance with the states of South America, which we are now engaged in loving. It is not from Bolivia, or Chile, or Venezuela, or the Argentina that we have drawn our best traditions, our law, language, literature, and art. We extend to these 'sister Republics' the arms of commercial affection; but they have no magic words like Magna Charta and le Tiers Etat to stir our souls an inch beyond self-profit. When we count up our assets, we must reckon heavily on the respect of those nations which we most respect, and whose good-will in the past is a guarantee of good-will in the future. It is worth our while, even from the standpoint of Americanism, to prove our fellowship with humanity, our care for other interests than our own. The civilization of the world is the business of all who live in the world. We cannot see it crashing down as it crashed in the sinking of the Lusitania and the Ancona, and content ourselves with asking how many Americans were drowned. Noble standards, and noble sympathies, and noble sorrows have their driving power, their practical utility. They have counted heavily in the destinies of nations. Carthage had commerce. Rome had ideals.

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