The National Army
HAD any one in the early days of 1917 predicted that in April the United States would formally be at war with Germany; that in May Congress would pass the Selective Service law; that in June nearly ten million men would be registered for service pursuant to the President’s proclamation; that in July the order in which they were to appear for examination would be determined; that in August the first quotas would be ready to report; that in September they would begin to arrive at the cantonments; and that by October the training would be well under way — had any one in those early days of uncertainty and indecision possessed the temerity to suggest even the possibility of these achievements, his predictions would have attracted attention only on account of the seeming improbability of their realization. Never did a nation abandon more suddenly and completely its dreams of peace and neutrality and turn to the arts of war.
Even more noteworthy are these results when account is taken of the means by which they were accomplished. Recorded experience would have required a complicated system in some departmental bureau to work out the infinite details of the undertaking. But in this case precedent was thrown aside, and the intelligence and capacity for coöperation of the private citizen were intrusted with the task of providing the recruits for a great army. The draft law of 1863 was administered by a bureau of the War Department and by district boards of enrollment presided over by provost marshals who had the rank and pay of captains of cavalry. The roster of the National Army of 1917 was prepared by civilians, for the law expressly enjoined that the boards charged with the selection of the men should be composed of members ’none of whom shall be connected with the military establishment.’
The enormous volume of work involved in enrolling those subject to the law, in giving them cards of registration, in preparing the lists and numbering the names of registrants preparatory to the drawing, in the physical examination of those called up for service, and in hearing and passing on claims for exemption and discharge, was performed almost entirely without compensation. Well might ProvostMarshal-General Crowder exclaim that ‘no great national project was ever attempted with so complete a reliance upon the voluntary coöperation of citizens for its execution.’ Democracy had stood the test, and for the time being had earned its right to survive. The voluntary coöperation of free citizens had proved as efficient as any administrative machine devised and imposed by an autocratic government.
Under these remarkable auspices the National Army of 1917 came into being. And who can forget those memorable days when the first quotas entrained for the cantonments? The crowded sidewalks, the bands, the escorts of citizens and officials, and behind them the long lines of seriousfaced men, — men of every walk in life: keen-eyed business men, sturdy farmers, neatly dressed clerks, mechanics, barbers, bakers, professional men, a college professor or two, and unskilled laborers, — some with countenances aglow with the consciousness and enthusiasm of patriotic service, others with hardly a perception of their mission showing through their stolid faces; men, too, of almost every racial mould that Europe produces, and many from the countries of Asia; some men with poise and dignity in their walk, a few with slouchy gait and slip-shod appearance — a veritable cross-section of our population, revealing all its racial varieties, types, and conditions of men. And then the ringing bells and shrieking whistles as the trains pulled out — and we almost forgot the tear-stained faces of wives and mothers and sweethearts as we hurried back to work.
In the early summer the sites for the cantonments had been selected. Tracts of farm-land and prairie, from which the latest crops had not even been harvested, suddenly became the scenes of feverish activity. Neighboring communities awakened from their slumbers and felt the thrill of a new life. Sixteen cities, containing in all twentyfour thousand buildings and designed to shelter nearly seven hundred thousand men, were rushed to completion, and each city provided with its own water, sewerage, telephone, and lighting systems, with miles of constructed roads, with its own theatres, fire department, railroad yards, refrigeration plant, bakeries, laundry, post-office, hotels, and hospital — all embodying the latest results of scientific investigation and building practice. The camps in themselves were an epic in enterprise.
And in these cantonments a new epoch in our national life began, and six hundred thousand young men entered upon a new enterprise. Arriving at the cantonment receiving station their names were read: Aboud, Abraham, Adams, Adamski, Annarino, Applegate, Arhondakis, Anderson, Baranek, Beseske, Boerst, Brown, Cassidy, Corwin, Czarnota, Czeniakowski, Czyryla, Dzurda, — every conceivable combination and permutation of the alphabet, — and they were assigned to quarters in the new barracks. Thumband finger-prints were taken to assure future identification, and every man was given another rigid physical examination. Any suspicion of defect was subjected to the X-Ray and the latest tests of medical science. Typhoid prophylaxis and vaccination were administered. Defective teeth and minor ailments were treated. In the first few days of its existence the National Army had appreciably raised the average of health in the United States.
Having passed the physical tests, the men were assigned, according to the districts from which they came, to the various line regiments and to the different branches of the service. Later on, a civilian committee from Washington organized for each cantonment a personnel office. Every man was required to fill out a card on which was a printed list of forty-nine occupations arranged in the order of their relative value for military purposes, unskilled labor and the legal profession being bracketed at the bottom of the scale. By means of the entries on these cards and their classification it became possible to assign men according to their trades and experience to the various duties connected with the sheltering, clothing, feeding, equipment, and the transportation and communications of a community of forty thousand souls.
Most of the men had never seen an officer, and most of the officers, fresh from their training at the officers’ camps, had never commanded a platoon, but the novelty of the experience and the zest of action inspired all with the spirit of the mighty enterprise.
The first lessons were in military courtesies. The meaning and the importance of the military salute were explained, and in a few days every man in camp was privileged to laugh at the untutored recruit who happened to encounter the commanding general. Not receiving the customary salute, — so the story went the rounds of the barracks, — the general stopped the youth and asked him how long he had been in the cantonment. ‘Oh, two days,’ was the answer; ‘how long have you been here?’ ‘A little longer than that,’ replied the general; ‘and how do you like it?’ ‘Oh, first-rate,’ was the response; ‘how does it suit you?’
Uniforms were lacking and the ranks at first presented a motley disarray of civilian suits and khaki, comic-opera combinations of military tunics, blue overalls, and mismatched leggings — but all looked forward hopefully, and it was a proud day when the entire company appeared in uniform.
Instruction began with the school of the soldier, and with close-order drill by squads. Constant attention was given to ‘setting-up’ exercises, for this war makes unprecedented demands on physical endurance. As proficiency was acquired, close-order drill was taught in platoons, companies, and larger units. Then came instruction in extended order, in attack and defense, and in the work of covering detachments.
There were not sufficient rifles to go around, — only sixty to a company, — and the platoons were compelled to take turns in their use. But after ten days’ training in the manual of arms, the battalion commander, a regular army officer, was heard to remark that ‘regulars could n’t do it any better.’ The positionand aiming-drill were performed with dummy guns, and sighting was taught with sighting bars which the men made for themselves. The artillery regiments were even more put to it for equipment. For months after the preliminary training had been completed, the men were compelled to wear out their enthusiasm on Quaker guns improvised from cart-wheels logs, stove-pipes, or anything at hand, which, by violating the imagination, could be made to resemble artillery.
By this time French and British officers had arrived, and had begun instruction in the new methods and the new weapons which the war has called into use. An automatic rifle, brought from France, and the only weapon of the kind in the cantonment, went the rounds for purposes of demonstration. Groups from every company were instructed in the art of bomb-throwing. The resources of the country having proved inadequate to supply trenchmortars, a few mechanical geniuses, out of materials at hand, produced a weapon which tested out as satisfactorily as any mortar in actual service. The trench-systems of the Western front were duplicated, the infantry battalions taking turns at digging front-line trenches, communication, supporting, and reserve trenches, and bomb-proof shelters, and in making fascines and sand-bags for the parapets and parados. Barbed wire was strung, and dummies representing German soldiers defending the system were set up. Under conditions as realistic as art could produce, and under the eyes of veterans who had faced the Boche and bested him, the men were taught the ‘will of the bayonet,’ democracy’s answer to Germany’s ‘will to power.’ Whoever witnesses the bayonet practice in any of the cantonments will realize that our men are being prepared, not for the idealities, but for the grim business of war.
Nor was it all work. Men whose minds and bodies had never been swept by the purifying atmosphere of healthful play learned for the first time the meaning of outdoor sport. At the daily recreation hour forty football games could be seen in progress in all parts of the camp. More than one gridiron star, whose services in the past would have commanded a general’s salary, was wearing a uniform and coaching men who had never seen a game. A number of ring champions had been drafted in the first quotas. Their fame spread rapidly through the barracks and they were commandeered for instruction in the manly art. Two big league nines happened to stop at the cantonment and played a ten-inning game in a natural amphitheatre formed by the hills. Twelve dozen balls were lost among the thirty thousand soldiers who covered the hillsides. The next day every battalion had its baseball nine.
After the day’s work a lecture or entertainment would pack the liberty theatre or the various camp auditoriums; but there was abundant talent among the men themselves. Moreover, every man’s ability in the way of public entertainment had been recorded and classified at headquarters with as much care as his previous military experience and ability to speak French or German. Monotony and discontent are as deadly as an epidemic. Practice in mass singing was encouraged and was taken up by the men with enthusiasm. Battalions on practice march could be heard carrying with lusty voices the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic to some such improvised words as, —
Watch your step, here comes O-HI-O!
Watch your step, here comes O-HI-O!
To fight for liberty!
America’s long neglect of her immigrant population was early reflected in the returns made by the personnel office. Out of twenty-four thousand men in one cantonment it was found that over four thousand could speak little or no English, and that thousands more had so imperfect a knowledge of it that their military training was seriously handicapped. One regiment, drawn from a large industrial centre, was said to contain over twenty-five hundred such men. Forty foreign languages and dialects were found to be represented in the division. Most of these men were of necessity transferred from the permanent organizations to the training battalions of the dépôt brigade, and intensive instruction in English through the dramatic method was begun. Many enlisted men volunteered as teachers. On the other hand, one man, who was born in Germany and had been a college professor in civil life, gave instruction in French and German to the division headquarters staff.
In this way civilian garb gave place to khaki, stooping shoulders and careless gait to expanding chests and precision of muscular movement, stolid looks to alertness and attention, inertia to the spirit of the bayonet. Classdistinctions were obliterated, and racial and religious prejudices cast aside, bringing into relief those qualities of sinewy manhood, patriotism, and service which in times past have been the glory of the Republic. Frequently mothers, harassed by rumors that the ‘boys were starving,’ or that ‘half a company had been frozen to death,’ or that ‘the men were being mistreated,’ drifted into camp. They met their boys, were shown over the barracks, sat down to mess, and went away satisfied — hoping against hope that it would all end with the cantonment.
In accordance with the Selective Service law, the men had been organized, as far as practicable, into units corresponding with the sections from which they came. Early in the training the commanding general ordered that the four platoons from each of the larger cities of the state which made the finest showing should be sent home for an exhibition drill. This had been a powerful incentive to the men. The home cities looked forward to the visit with keen anticipation. The newspapers featured it, and a monster reception was planned. When the day finally arrived, a great throng surged about the railroad station and lined the sidewalks. The whistles sounded, and the long-expected train pulled in. With the celerity and precision attained only by military training two hundred and fifty khaki-clad men had detrained. With steady step, eyes to the front, and seemingly unconscious of the vociferous cheers and shouted greetings of their friends and fellow townsmen, the solid ranks pushed through the parting throngs. The crowd was suddenly silent. It had vaguely sensed a new and mighty purpose.
It was the remaking of the nation.
Were peace to be declared to-morrow, the National Army would have fully justified every effort which it has entailed and every dollar it has cost.
Magnificent as are these results, military experts tell us that they represent nevertheless only a fraction of what is necessary before the National Army can reach effectiveness as a fighting machine. They explain that an army is an organization held together and vitalized by moral forces. Neither numbers, nor equipment, nor drill can take their place. Napoleon said that ‘in war the moral is to the physical as three is to one.’ Men who have experienced the soul-shattering horrors of the present war place the ratio even higher — as high as nine to one. As the French Infantry Drill Regulations express it, ‘The moral forces constitute the most powerful factors for success ; they give life to all material efforts, and dominate a commander’s decisions at every turn. Honor and patriotism inspire the utmost devotion; the spirit of sacrifice and the fixed determination to conquer ensure success; discipline and steadiness guarantee the necessary obedience and the coördination of every effort.’
How gloriously the French have proved all this ! The ultimate purpose of every military operation is the destruction of the moral cohesion, the will and courage of the opposing force. So long as these last, the army may be battered in action or torn with losses, but it is not defeated. When they are gone, the army ceases to exist — it becomes a mob. In this condition it is helpless and a prey to the will of the victor.
These moral forces must finally come from the people. This is true in a special degree of the National Army. The splendid young men who volunteered for service in the Regular Army, the National Guard, and the Navy have behind them the heritage and traditions of the older organizations of which they are a part. The National Army, on the other hand, is without traditions. Its life is still in the future. It must of necessity draw its moral sustenance from the people at home. There is no other source from which it can obtain it. It represents every element and class of the population. The army as a whole, and every soldier in its ranks, is in constant communication and in intimate touch with those in civil life. The opinions prevailing in the community are immediately reflected in the army; if there be doubt at home there will inevitably be indecision in the camp; racial, religious, and social prejudices in the population tend to foster such differences among the men and destroy their esprit de corps.
The sense of duty among the people will produce a corresponding level in the discipline of the army; their determination to wage the war to a successful conclusion will inspire the will to victory among the soldiers; if the people falter, the army will weaken; it is true of this army in a higher degree than of any army in the past, that its morale is a function of the public spirit of the nation. ‘Battles are no longer decisive,’ says General von Ludendorff. ‘The people must be defeated.’ Hence Germany’s policy of propaganda for confusing the intelligence, and her system of frightfulness for breaking the spirit of a nation.
That both will be employed against the United States goes without saying, and it behooves us to survey our defenses.
It is evident that the national spirit is determined largely by the character of the population. It will be more potent in a homogeneous people, speaking the same language, than in one made up of varied elements. Partly for this reason, Germany has been a far more important factor in the war than the heterogeneous population of Austria-Hungary. Our own country contains a variety of unassimilated elements. Forty per cent of those living within our continental territory are either foreign-born, or children of the foreign-born. In our large industrial centres, in the East and in the Middle West, from sixty to eighty per cent belongs to this class. What is more, they do not come from Anglo-Saxon or Teutonic stock. In recent years there has been a steady influx of Slavs, Armenians, Greeks, Latins, Turks — people who possess but little affinity with Anglo-Saxon ideals and institutions. So negligent have we been of our national life, that we have permitted our foreign population to segregate itself according to racial groups, each group preserving its native language and only very remotely affected by American thought and ideals. For many of them America symbolizes merely a factory and a boarding-house, and neither of these institutions produces patriotic enthusiasm. Every man is ready to fight for his home, but none for a lodging-house or a workshop. No contribution to the public spirit of the country can be drawn from these sources.
Twenty years ago Germany began to take advantage of our fatuous shortsightedness. Just as unmistakable as the gun-emplacements which she built within the territory of her friendly neighbors are the evidences of her military preparations against the United States. Just as her agents promoted the purposes of Pangermanism in Austria-Hungary by consolidating the German and Magyar elements and by preventing the unification of the other racial groups, so in the United States they have consistently fostered the solidarity of the German section of the population and have sought to hinder all processes of assimilation.
It was no mere accident that, after German immigration had practically ceased and the dwindling circulation of German-language newspapers indicated that their usefulness was ended, these same papers suddenly increased their clientele of German readers, and at the beginning of the Great War, with sudden unanimity, became violent partisans of the German government. Nor is it a coincidence that through all these twenty years a vigorous propaganda for the German language and Kultur has been conducted in our schools and colleges, and in our legislatures and administrative bodies. It was a well-thought-out plan for the consolidation of the German element and the disintegration of the rest of the population. In this manner Germany hoped to exercise a predominating influence upon American policies and to make impossible the development of any national spirit that might offer resistance to her plans of world-empire. To make assurance doubly sure, thousands of her spies and agents insinuated themselves into the peaceful communities of our country and into the offices of our government. Thousands of alien enemies are in the ranks of the National Army.
Common religious belief and enthusiasm for the same political ideals also serve to intensify the public spirit. Religious fanaticism spread the Saracen conquest, over Northern Africa and into the Continent of Europe. The formula, of liberty, equality, and fraternity, cherished with the ardor due a religious creed, made the poorly equipped and poorly paid armies of the French Revolution irresistible. But these elements, again, are lacking in the United States. In the pursuit of wealth the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the ideals set forth in Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech have been neglected. Those flaming words which inspired the efforts of the past have come to be regarded as glittering generalities. They have ceased to be the foundation of our education. We have made no effort to inculcate them in our foreign population.
We are to-day at war with a people which for generations has been trained in sacrifice and duty to the state. Ever since Stein translated the categorical imperative of Kant into terms of universal military service, the habit of discipline has become the predominating quality of German character. This quality, intensified by heredity and education, has given the German army the moral cohesion which has made it the most perfect military machine the world has known. Our own development, on the other hand, has been in a different direction. Our history has been one of repeated struggles for individual rights and individual advantages. The sense of duty has not been called into play. Our foreign population, reaching these shores, has gladly cast aside the burdens which oppressed it in the home lands. But until the National Army was called out, we offered these people nothing to visualize their duties and obligations to their adopted country.
It is against these sins of omission and apathy in our past that we must contend to-day. The faults and weaknesses in the mass of the population will inevitably be reflected in the army. Most of the foreign-born know little of the purposes of the war. Democracy is for them an ideality devoid of meaning. There is nothing in their social, intellectual, or emotional background to inspire their spirit. Among the native Americans there are many whose education in our history and our ideals has become so attenuated that they view the present struggle with utter indifference. After the novelty of the first few months had worn off, many men discovered that they were in the service against their will and against the wishes of their families, and claims for exemption were multiplied. And, finally, those who entered the cantonments with enlightened patriotism and high purpose have had their spirits sorely tried by the shortcomings of the government and the mood of the people at home.
Those having dependents promptly made allotments for their support. While these allotments were regularly deducted from the soldiers’ pay, the government was unable to make prompt payment to the families. The long delay has caused suffering among dependents which has reacted unfavorably upon the men.
Again, men who are called away from their business pursuits naturally chafe when they find that rifles are slow in arriving, that machine-guns and artillery cannot be supplied, and that they are marking time instead of making rapid progress in the work which they are called to do.
It is said that criticism should be stilled and investigation and inquiry suspended. On the contrary, every criticism and every inquiry prompted by interest in the welfare of the army and its efficiency should be welcomed. It would be a certain omen of defeat if the people did not demand the reasons for apparent failures. A nation indifferent to its armies never won a victory.
That the army has maintained its spirit is due to the splendid character of its leaders and the wonderful leaven of patriotism which it contains. There are within its ranks thousands upon thousands of men who gladly answered the call to service, sacrificing everything they held dear. There are thousands of men of Polish and other stock who, either in their own persons, or from the lips of their fathers, have learned the meaning of Prussian autocracy and realized its menace to human liberty — and these men will acquit themselves in a manner worthy of the countrymen of Kosciusko and Pulaski! Every cantonment can tell of men and families who waived their rights to exemption that they might serve the country in its need; of men who, at large individual expense and inconvenience, submitted to surgical and medical treatment that they might pass the physical tests; of mothers who gave their sons without a murmur. It is these men and women who, to-day, are not only bearing the burden of their own sacrifices, but enlightening their comrades and neighbors, teaching them American ideals, explaining the meaning of the war, and maintaining their spirit under adverse conditions.
But up to the present it has been a personal, individual effort. The National Army is so new that there has been no mobilization of the mass-sentiment of the nation behind it.
It is true that public organizations have been active on behalf of the material well-being of our soldiers. But their appeal has been rather to sympathy and solicitude — sometimes even to pity. A young wife had sent her husband to the cantonment, in the fervor of her patriotism waiving her just claim for exemption. She gradually dropped out of the life of the community. One day her minister called to express his sympathy and condolences. Her patriotism turned to angry indignation. She had made a glorious sacrifice — and in return was regarded as an object of charitable sentiments! It is not sympathy that is needed. Sympathy will not sustain a man through the long months of training, nor will pity nerve his sinews when he is brought finally to the supreme moment of his life, when his bayonet-thrust must be sure and his guard ready. Pity will not support a family throughout the long months of uncertainty. It is not this. It is far more. It is the pride of the country, the confidence in the valor and heroism of the army, and the flaming consciousness of the glory of the service, which must be mobilized. Until there is a vivid mass of realization of these things the country has failed in its spiritual duty to its soldiers.
The army is the cutting edge of the sabre, the government the blade and grip, but the force that must wield it is the people behind the army. If they lack determination, the blade will not be driven home. If there is uncertainty of purpose, the edge will be turned and the blade broken.
We are to-day seeking to overcome the results of fifty years of apathy and careless living. We are attempting to accomplish within a few months what in the natural course of events would require generations — what in Germany has taken centuries of training and heredity. It seems impossible. But the very existence of the National Army proves that nothing is impossible to this nation when its intelligence and its conscience have once been aroused. Let us address ourselves promptly and vigorously to the Americanization of all who live within our territory by providing them with the opportunities for learning our language and for acquainting themselves with our history and the principles of our government. Until this has been done there is no excuse for continuing in our public schools the teaching of German. The task must no longer be left to charitably inclined individuals and organizations, but must be assumed by the state as a supreme duty. On the other hand, the utilization of such opportunities must be made compulsory.
The present war is the culminating struggle between two systems of political philosophy. It will end in the world being all Prussian or all free. Those who seek at this crisis to undermine our faith in our institutions, or to libel the policy or impugn the motives which brought us into the war, or who in any way would dissipate our determination to win, are no ordinary traitors. Benedict Arnold merely surrendered material resources—these would destroy the soul. The treatment accorded them should be commensurate with the enormity of their crime.
Let us no longer commit the error of extending barren sympathy to those families that have given their sons and husbands and brothers to the country; rather let us proclaim them as the elect of the community, those whom it delights to honor, and behind whom we gladly mobilize all our resources of sacrifice and devotion.
And in our soldiers may we cherish only confidence and pride. The fiery Pentecost will then descend and envelop our people with the glory of the battle for democracy and sweep its armies on to victory!