The Common Foe
BY L. P. JACKS1
‘Whoever cannot prevail upon himself to approve from the bottom of his heart the sinking of the Lusitania, whoever cannot conquer his sense of the gigantic cruelty to unnumbered innocent victims . . . and give himself up to honest delight at this victorious exploit of German defensive power — him we judge to be no true German.’ — Pastor Baumgarten, quoted in Conquest and Kultur, page 32.
THIS utterance deserves the closest study. If the reader has time and aptitude for such things, it will repay him to place the words under the kind of analysis which used to be practised in the pulpit, when a text of Scripture was first expounded, clause by clause or word by word, and then finally summed up into a single motive or driving thought. So expounded, the text of Baumgarten’s saying would yield some remarkable results. The exposition of the separate clauses would be sufficiently instructive. But the most startling result of all would be in the final summing up, which would discover, in a sudden revelation, the very marrow of the German gospel of force.
To change the figure, the reader may be advised to study the picture first with his eyes close to the canvas, that he may note the colors that are used and the way they are laid on. Then let him step back and view the whole from a distance. He will see before him a speaking portrait of the common foe — ;painted, be it observed, by the foe himself, as by one looking at himself in a glass. And he will mark the cruelty of the face. ‘Whoever cannot’ do thus and thus, says Pastor Baumgarten, ‘we judge to be no true German
Meditating upon what he has thus seen, both in the near view and the distant, there will gradually rise before the reader a complete explanation of the origin, nature, and issues of the present war, and an equally complete justification of the part he is called upon to play in bringing it to the only conclusion which mankind can tolerate. He will understand what he is fighting for and what he is fighting against. He will stand in need of no further propaganda to enlighten him on this matter. And all this he will owe, not to the malicious comment of an adversary, but to the original text of a German confession uttered by the mouth of a German pastor. To which he may add further the equally outspoken confession of a German statesman, Prince Hohenlohe, quoted by the Earl of Denbigh in the House of Lords on May 8: ' Your people think we admire you with your principles of humanity and all the rest of it. We don’t. We think you a lot of damned fools.’
When, four years ago, we first became acquainted with utterances of this character, — and many had begun to leak out even before the war, — there were not wanting thoughtful people, both in America and in Great Britain, who refused to take them seriously. They seemed to belong to the class of mere ravings, and we could not believe that any great and enlightened people would sanction for long a policy guided by a spirit so rankly and frankly inhuman. The notion was widespread and insistent that no modern government making war with aims such as the writers quoted in Conquest and Kultur had expressed could possibly sustain the effort; since the German people, when once they realized what their masters were after, would assuredly find means of putting a stop to the conflict. I can recall many conversations that I had at the time, with persons by no means pacifist in tendency, in which this view was forcibly expressed. An early end to the war was anticipated, not by a political revolt in Germany, — which competent judges have never expected, — but by the refusal of her moral forces to engage themselves in an enterprise so outrageous. For, until the outbreak of the war and perhaps for some time afterwards, the moral force of the German people was held in high respect by Englishmen in general. There were none of the humaner tendencies of civilization in which we did not credit them with whatever interest we could claim for ourselves. We were totally unprepared for the revelation that was awaiting us; and in this sense, if in no other, the Germans can claim to have taken us by surprise and to have enjoyed the advantage which surprise confers on an enterprising foe. Our military authorities ’were, I think, commendably alert, and made the best of the utterly inadequate forces which were at their disposal in the summer of 1914; but the public mind was slow to gather the necessary impetus. The feeling was abroad that the whole enterprise, on Germany’s side, was doomed to a speedy collapse through its inherent moral rottenness.
Needless to say, we have been completely disillusioned, and it is to be hoped that the American people will profit by our disillusionment. They have had the advantage of entering the war at a stage when the shadow of doubt can no longer exist as to what it is we have to deal with. The enemy whom it is now our high mission, as united peoples, to deal with and overthrow, is that principle or being, — I am strongly tempted to use the latter word, — whose sinister character rises unmistakably before us as we read between the lines of the atrocious sentence in which Baumgarten has unconsciously painted the portrait of Germany. Its name is Cruelty — the lowest of Nature’s categories, disavowed and abhorred wherever the conscience of man is not perverted or asleep, but still returning from time to time to humiliate our human pride by reminding us of our bestial origin.
The Witches’ Sabbath which, after years of assiduous preparation, Germany at last succeeded in setting afoot, is on a scale so vast, and composed of elements so confused and confusing, that at first one is at a loss to find the keynote of the performance. Germany, moreover, has endowed it with features of horror for the interpretation of which the human mind seems to lack the necessary categories. We see clearly that an enormous crime has been committed. The mere fact that in four years twelve million human beings have been slaughtered, and perhaps five times as many maimed or crippled, is sufficient evidence of that. But the crime has so many aspects, and is so far beyond any existing measure of criminality, that it is by no means easy to give it a distinctive name.
But the simplest explanation turns out to be truest, and in human actions the simplest explanation is always that which traces their origin to some instinct, impulse, passion, or desire. With that clue in our hands the difficulty begins to vanish. We read again through the collection of extracts in Conquest and Kultur; we view these utterances in the light of the deeds by which Germany has continually illustrated them during the last four years; and gradually the keynote disentangles itself from the confused mass of impressions. It is the voice of cruelty that we hear, the voice of the wild beast. Tracing the sound as it winds onward through the whole performance, at length it becomes clear to us that what we have here to do with is the attempt of a cruel nation to subdue mankind to itself by methods of cruelty, thereby reinstating the lowest of nature’s categories as an operative principle in international affairs.
Within the political crime, which has been described over and over again by statesmen, and by none so forcibly as by President Wilson, there lies a deeper crime which is directed against the very nature of man, the fons et origo of all the rest. Cruelty is the keynote of the whole collection of utterances gathered together in Conquest and Kultur, and might very well have formed the title of the book. Cruelty has been the keynote of all the deeds by which Germany has from the beginning of the war proved that these utterances are true to her character.
We are mistaken, and seriously mistaken, when we take the presence of this quality as an accidental circumstance, as a mere ugly fringe to the rest of Germany’s proceedings, or as belonging only to the manner of her actions but not to their substance. From the human point of view cruelty is the essence of the matter, the one word which, better than all others, sums up the whole body of reasons why the American and British peoples are now at war. Not until the meaning of the war has been thus translated from its political to its human equivalent, can we claim to have realized the true nature of the common foe. Cruelty, appearing at first as a general contempt for the rights of nations, has been turned into the chief weapon of war, and used as such by Germany without stint or limit. In the ages to come this will be remembered before everything else, and will be the last thing to be erased from the memory of mankind. It will be the heading of the chapter in which history narrates the part which Germany has played in the war. And no one need hesitate to predict that whatever victories she may have won, or may be destined to win hereafter, will be undone, or turned into ultimate defeats, by the reputation that she has achieved as a cruel nation and as an apostle of cruelty in the life of nations.
For the evidence of all this, we are no longer dependent on the utterances of her statesmen, professors, and divines — eloquent as they remain when taken in corroboration. By a chain of deeds following in rapid and unbroken succession, she has unmasked herself as an essentially cruel nation, with cruel instincts and with cruel aims; so that we need no longer appeal to her writers and preachers — to Treitschke, Von Bernhardi, Pastor Baumgarten, et id omne genus.
‘In the beginning,’ said the greatest of her poets, ‘was the deed.’ The deed with which Germany began this business was the unspeakable outrage on Belgium — a deed of cruelty through and through. This was the growing point of all the rest. From that moment on, the deeds of Germany have followed — as her statesmen are fond of proclaiming that they always do — a perfectly logical course. They present an orderly evolution, wherein the later crimes grow out of the earlier by a law of sequence peculiar to actions of this kind. They show an inner logic always present in cruel deeds, which compels the criminal to retrieve the consequences of the first crime by perpetrating a second, of wider scope. When the victim has been murdered, the next step is to murder his immediate friends, lest vengeance should be taken; and after that, all sympathizers, actual or possible, must be got out of the way— and so on, in ever-widening circles, till at last the criminal stands alone and unchallenged in the midst of a wilderness of destruction and death. Nothing short of this will render him ‘safe.'
Thus Germany, proclaiming that she is fighting for her ‘safety,’finds herself at this moment in the precise position occupied by Macbeth in the fifth act of his downfall. She must either crush the life out of the nations that oppose her, surrounding herself with a desert of broken and humiliated peoples, — a condition to which Russia is already reduced, — or she must accept the consequences of her crimes. Such is the natural evolution, the inevitable logic, of all deeds into which cruelty enters as a motive. ‘Our actions,’ said Bethmann-Hollweg, in one of his last speeches as Chancellor, ‘have followed a perfectly logical course.’ So indeed they have, and they will have logical consequences.
Some years ago I was present at a meeting of friends, when the question suddenly came up, what is the most detestable quality in human character? We were a mixed group of professional men — lawyers, doctors, clergymen, journalists, and one eminent artist. We had been talking about the Pharisee and the publican, and the excellent point had been made by one of the speakers that anybody nowadays who consciously tried to play the part of the publican would himself become a Pharisee of a deeper dye. This naturally enough introduced the question of ‘hypocrisy,’and we were in the midst of an argument, of a somewhat hair-splitting kind, as to what hypocrisy is and is not, when somebody said, ‘But after all there are worse things than hypocrisy’ — and instantly half a dozen voices called out, ‘Cruelty.’
At the word our hair-splitting was arrested. Almost without discussion, we were agreed that cruelty is the most detestable quality which human nature, in these days at all events, can display. I have seldom known an instance of unanimity more rapidly attained. And I believe that, if a plebiscite on the same question were to be taken to-morrow among the plain men and women of America and Great Britain, the same answer would be given and with the same promptitude. Whenever cruelty appears, its nature is unmistakable; it is a naked thing, which defines itself; it tempts no hair-splitting; like,the Substance of Spinoza, it tells its own tale in its own language, and men have only to see it to know it for what it is. Practised by man, it is the worst thing that earth can display or heaven look down upon.
Unquestionably, then, the most appalling fact which the present war has revealed is that the German people — I use the word ‘people’ advisedly — possess an instinct for cruelty. The evidence for this is cumulative and overwhelming, and much of it is too horrible for the pen to transcribe. War at its best is a cruel business, but Germany has exerted herself to make it as cruel as possible. She has placed her intellect, — her scientific intellect, her political intellect, her military intellect, — at the service of her instinct for cruelty. She has not only given rein to this instinct, —as in a sense everyone who fires a gun at his enemy may be said to do, — but she has held up the cruelty of her deeds as an aspect of them that is to be admired and encouraged. Even if we admit that the destruction of the Lusitania and her passengers was a military necessity, or a great stroke of military success, — and assuredly it was neither, — none but a cruel nation would have struck a medal, or allowed a medal to be struck, to commemorate the event.
Her treatment of Belgium was, as I have said, the beginning, and every one of her subsequent proceedings, which the world now knows by heart, is in strict keeping with the first. Nor is the story yet complete. We know but little of her treatment of prisoners of war — little, that is, compared with what we shall know hereafter, but enough, alas, to be assured that, when the full story comes to be written, the world will read one of the blackest pages of its history. It will be a story of cruelty carried to lengths of which, heretofore, we had deemed human nature incapable.
It is this part of the story, more perhaps than any other, which confirms me in the belief that we have here to do with a people in whom cruelty is an instinct. I will mention three instances, and they are typical of hundreds that are well authenticated, of thousands that will be made public hereafter, and of many more of which the record has perished with the victims who might otherwise have preserved it.
A British officer wounded at Le Cateau, after nameless sufferings both in transit and in hospital, and after seeing the deaths of many of his companions through neglect and torture, was at length sufficiently recovered to stand on his feet, and was under orders for removal to another locality. He and a number of others in a similar condition were drawn up in the station, waiting for their train. Presently a passenger express drew up at the platform, which was crowded to the edge by the wounded men. When the train stopped, a woman put her head out of the window of a first-class carriage, spat in the officer’s face, and without saying a word, drew back into the carriage and closed the window.
On another occasion, the same officer was one of a number of others, lying on stretchers, who had been gathered together in a small shed. Presently it began to rain heavily outside. Whereupon the attendants took the trouble to carry them all out, left them in the rain for three hours, and then brought them back again. Subsequently one of the officers, who was suffering torments of thirst, called out for water. A nurse came up and said, ‘Ah, you want water. Well, you shall have some.’ She went out, returned in a moment with the water, took it up to the officer, poured it out on the ground under his face, and handed him the empty glass.
A boy officer of nineteen had been taken, wounded, about the same time as the witness mentioned above. Either then or during his transit to Germany, he had been deprived of all his clothes, except his socks, and had been given a Red Cross blanket to cover him. With his wounded arm suspended by a piece of string round his neck, a sling being refused him, and with the blanket wrapped round his body, he arrived, filthy, exhausted, and famished, at his destination. Before detraining, the Red Cross nurse in charge ordered him to give up the blanket as this was the property of the Red Cross and not of the military hospital to which he was going. He represented that he had nothing else to cover him. But the nurse insisted, made him take off the blanket, and left him naked. In that condition he walked with the others through a jeering crowd from the station to the hospital.
These are small things in comparison with the general background of horrors, but they are unique, and profoundly characteristic. Moreover, small though they are, they form one piece with the monstrous crimes which the German government has committed, one after another, against international decency and human right. The story of the wounded officer left to walk naked through the town, the story of the victims of the Lusitania, the story of the fifteen thousand sailors of the British mercantile marine who have been murdered at sea, are only shorter and longer versions of the same revolting truth, and perhaps it is the shorter version that tells the story best. Large and small, they betray the same psychology — the psychology of a people with whom cruelty is an instinct. And again I venture to predict that these small things will be the longest and the most vividly remembered in the ages that are to come: the murder of Nurse Cavell, for example, will never be forgotten so long as humanity reads the record of the past.
In these large-scale cruelties Germany has this indeed in her favor — that the scale of them is so large that our faculties are unable to comprehend it, to realize what it means. This perhaps is a merciful provision, for a full realization of these things would make life too dark to be endurable; and it will extend to posterity, who will be equally unable to remember what we cannot conceive. But the small things, which are as comprehensible as they are significant, will hang in the picture-gallery of the future; they will be speaking symbols of all the rest; they will summarize the meaning of the war and will remind coming generations of Americans and British that the foe against which they fought shoulder to shoulder and mingled their blood to overthrow, was Cruelty. Of the woman who poured out the water under the face of the wounded officer one may indeed repeat what was said long ago, and in a contrary sense, of another woman: ‘ Wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached, there shall that which this woman hath done be spoken of as a memorial of her.’ The woman for whom this memorial is being prepared is militarist Germany, tout simple. Her feet are the feet of Cruelty. Who can doubt that they are feet of clay?
A principle that should never be lost sight of when human affairs are in question is that every quality of character, whether national or individual, depends for its value on the other qualities with which it is mixed. There are qualities which are not themselves virtues, but which enormously increase the value of those that are: humor is a well-known instance in point. Contrariwise, there are certain vices which pervert and poison any virtue with which they happen to be conjoined. This may not be true of all the vices, but it is unquestionably true of some. And of these cruelty is the outstanding example. Among all the moral poisons this it is whose action is the most sudden, the most deadly, the most complete. Mixed with the virtues, however numerous and however stately, it has the instant effect of infecting them all with something abominable. You may have valor, efficiency, discipline, farsightedness, as the German nation unquestionably has, but if you have cruelty as well, the aforesaid virtues not only go for nothing as such, but begin to acquire the character of enormous vice. Thus it is that, until she has ceased to be cruel, no decent nation will acknowledge Germany as a friend,
In a League formed for the purpose of combining the highest qualities of the nations for a common purpose, what contributions would be more valuable than the valor, efficiency, discipline, and far-sightedness of this great people? But she must divest herself of cruelty before crossing the threshold. Endowed with nine tenths of the qualities which would secure her a leading place in any form of world-federation, she has the one vice which for the present puts her outside the pale, which unfits her for the comity of nations. There is no place in the world of the future for a people whose policy is tainted by the instinct for cruelty.
That virtues so high should be spoiled by admixture with a vice so detestable is not the least painful among the many tragic aspects of the hour. Reluctant as one must needs be to lay the worst of human qualities, as they are now appraised in a world no longer barbaric, to the charge of any people, a fair reading of German history, especially in the culminating period of the last four years, leaves no alternative. Whether one reads of the abominable doings of Frederick the Great, or of the cynical policies of Bismarck, or of the crew of the last fishing-smack left to perish in the North Sea, one is always aware of the presence in the atmosphere of this poisonous element. What affronts us most is not the note of ‘blood and iron,’not rapacity, not selfishness, not megalomania or the exaltation of might over right, — characteristics in which German history is not unique; not even the indifference to human suffering, but something worse — a tendency to go out of the way to inflict suffering, as when the wounded officers were removed from the shed that they might be exposed to the rain, and were taken back again. There is no resisting the conclusion that we have here to do with an instinct, unequally distributed of course and by many Germans detested and denounced, but sufficiently active to allow of the more cruel elements getting the upper hand of the less and stamping themselves on German methods, both in the policies of peace and in the conduct of war. Nor is there anything which confirms this so strongly as those reasoned defences of ‘ frightfulness’ — which is cruelty disguised under another name— lately worked out with such painstaking thoroughness, not by German military writers only, but by philosophers and divines.
As one ponders the meaning of these things, — reluctantly enough, — a new light seems to dawn on that sinister phrase which strikes the keynote of German militarism — ‘ World-dominion or Downfall.’ This was the motto of Lucifer in his assault upon heaven — the expression of a mind when it feels within itself the stirring of an impulse which the entire moral order is in league to extirpate. It is the motto of evil everywhere and always. In a moral sense, and in our day, there is no middle course for a cruel nation between downfall and world-dominion. So long as it clings to its cruelty, it must be in one position or the other. Nothing short of the total suppression of all its enemies will leave it in possession of peaceful days.’ In a deeper sense than any German writer I have encountered seems to be aware of, the author of this phrase unconsciously but accurately hit off an essential truth regarding the issue of the war.
There is a cruelty in Nature, and it has been reserved for our age to realize how immense is its range, and how appalling its effects. All this comes to a head in the suffering which man inflicts upon his brother; for man is a part of nature. Man has been called ’the representative product of the universe’; and we do well to remember that in this position his actions represent the worst of which nature is capable as well as the best. He summarizes her goods and he summarizes her evils. Thus it comes to pass that, when cruelty is practised by man, it is at once recognized as the worst thing under the sun. And because cruelty survives in man’s nature, the task has been justly assigned him of expiating it and of eradicating the last vestiges of its reign in human life. It is the enemy which he is sent forth to overthrow, an enemy which retains a citadel in his own nature. The whole mission of civilization might be summed up as a crusade against its power. Whatever other objects civilization may set before itself — and there are many — would be either unattainable, or worthless if attained, were cruelty to be left in possession.
The conclusion which the Germans have drawn from the facts is the opposite of that set forth above. A glance into Conquest and Kultur will show this on every page. The writers quoted have this in common — they interpret the cruelty of Nature as a warrant for going further in the same line. They accept the position for man as Nature’s chief agent in the bloody work of the struggle for existence; and what she does blindly and unconsciously, they would have Germany do, for her own aggrandizement, with open eyes, deliberately, systematically, scientifically. If Nature tortures and kills, why should not Germany torture and kill? If she is indifferent to the sufferings of her victims, why should Germany be sympathetic? If she has her own methods of torture, why should not Germany invent others more apropos? If she can destroy cities with molten lava, or overthrow them by earthquakes, why should not Germany batter Rheims Cathedral with her cannon? If Nature is a murderess, why should Germany hesitate to shoot Nurse Cavell?
This is the famous ‘ biological argument’ in support of Schrecklichkeit. ‘One single highly cultivated German warrior,’ says Haeckel, ‘ represents a higher intellectual and moral life than hundreds of the raw children of nature whom England, France, Russia, and Italy oppose to them.’
‘Must Kultur rear its domes over mountains of corpses, oceans of tears, and the death-rattle of the conquered?’ asks Karl A. Kuhn. ‘Yes, it must. The might of the Conqueror is the highest law before which the conquered must bow.’
‘The purpose of the conqueror,’ says K. F. Wolf, ‘must be to crush the conquered people and its political and lingual existence. . . . The principal thing for the conqueror is the outspoken will to rule and the will to destroy the political and national life of the conquered.’
‘As the German Eagle soars high above all the beasts of the earth’ says Professor Sombart, ‘so must the German feel exalted above all surrounding peoples, and must look down upon them in their bottomless depths.’
In all which, and a hundred other passages of similar import, the ethos is unmistakable. It is the hot foul breath of Nature’s cruelty that is blown in our faces. It is the instinct for cruelty that inspires these ravings, which otherwise we might well dismiss as the absurdities of megalomania. They express that instinct, and they appeal to it. How large a public they appeal to, I know not, but that there should be any public at all either to listen or applaud, is sufficiently significant. To out-Herod Nature in the infliction of suffering, to imitate and develop the darkest of her rites, to make man the agent and man the victim, and to propose that Germany should build up her greatness on this foundation — has the eye seen or the ear heard, or has it ever before entered into the heart of man to conceive, an infamy such as this?
Such is the cause in which America and Great Britain now stand united. Behind the political explanations that may be given of the war, — and they are important enough on their own ground, — we are brought at last to the naked human fact that the ultimate foe is cruelty. Mr. Wilson has said, in words which will stand written in the books of history, that the aim of America in the war is to make the world safe for democracy. But the world will never be safe for democracy so long as one cruel power either dominates or aspires to domination.
This, it seems to me, gives a high and peculiar meaning to the present alliance of our two peoples. It throws a new light on the nature of the bond that holds us together, and opens up the prospect of its endurance through the centuries to come. Some have described the bond in terms of blood-kinship, or of language or institutions having a common root; and others again have spoken of our common love of justice and international right. But to these I will venture to add one more, which is as potent as any of the others — our common hatred of cruelty.
Can hatred of anything ever be a bond of union among men? Yes, it can, when it takes the form of hating the worst, for that is only the obverse of loving the best! And here no question can arise as to what the worst really is. It is cruelty erected by an otherwise enlightened people into a scientific principle, and now plainly revealed in its true character before the eyes of the whole world. So presented, Americans and British hate it together, with a hatred equally implacable and equally resolute. I know of no sentiment, of no thought, of no ideal, which the individual American shares so wholeheartedly with his British friend, or in which the two nations are so completely at one — at one always, even when circumstances obscure the other bonds that unite them, but now consciously and joyously at one in the sense of a common mission on the earth. We have shared a vow with one another, that whatever rule or domination may hereafter arise in this world, it shall not be the rule of that power which, by its words — and still more by its deeds — has aligned itself with the cruelty of Nature, and adopting the worst of Nature’s methods has made it her mission, in her own interest, to impose new sufferings and new humiliations on the rest of mankind. Rather than see this happen it were better to perish and perish together. On that ground, if on no other, America and Great Britain now stand together with one heart, one mind, one will.
The war against cruelty, in which our two peoples thus stand united, is no new task suddenly or unexpectedly thrust upon our shoulders. It has been going on for ages, now in one form, now in another. It is the cause for which the best of our race have ‘resisted unto blood,’ since the birth of Christianity. Every blow struck through the Christian ages for liberty, for justice, for human rights, turns out, in the last analysis, to have been aimed at the reign of cruelty in one or other of its innumerable forms. In modern times the struggle has continued with unabated intensity and ever-growing resolution. It is the ultimate meaning of your own Civil War. Then as now, indeed, a great political issue was at stake; but the political issue was one which would never have arisen, had not one section of the community claimed to do a thing which was adjudged to be cruel by the standards of the other. Had it not been for the cruelty involved in slave-owning, there would have been no Civil War; and then as now it was the hatred of cruelty that nerved the fighting arm of the North.
We may interpret the whole movement for social reform, as it has developed during the last three-quarters of a century, in the same manner. Social reform began when cruelty was discovered in the normal working of industrial civilization. The best exponent we have ever had of the real motives of social reform was Charles Dickens. It was his great mission, all the greater because he was not fully aware of its greatness, to expose the secret cruelties which lurk beneath the surface of modern life, and by exposing them to rouse the hatred of them in the common human heart. His task has been taken up by thousands, and so deep is the resolve of all civilized men to have done with this last strain of the beast, that we are grateful to anyone who will point out its lurking-places and show us where the next blow needs to be struck.
I believe that future historians will find in these things the great redeeming feature of the present age — a mark of honor, to be set down (with much, alas, that tells a very different tale) to the everlasting credit of our day and generation. We have sinned against one another — God knows how deeply; we have constructed a highly artificial form of life, in which it is hard for anyone to play his part without inflicting harm on others at some point, remote or near, in the social complex; but with all this we have come to a common consent that, when cruelty is once revealed, our effort, shall never slacken until the causes of it are removed. This is the virtue which stands out clear and shining amid whatever vices may be justly laid to the charge of the men and women of this age.
Thus it is that the challenge of Germany does not find us unprepared. It is an old enemy that confronts us, and we have long ago chosen the side on which we stand and the part we mean to play. Never before, indeed, has cruelty taken so formidable a shape or shown itself so expert in disguising its true character; but we recognize the ancient foe and hope at last to finish our account with him. Here too ‘ events are taking a strictly logical course.’
It is a good work in which the American and British peoples now find themselves at one, and that alone gives the best augury for the maintenance of the bond and for its development in other fields and other forms. Of all the tasks in which we could be engaged together, there is none more consonant to the genius of the two peoples. We are building up a common memory, firmest and most enduring of all the bonds of human life; and through the ages that are to come, the heart of the American and the heart of the Briton will warm toward each other when they remember that their fathers stood side by side and struck together in that great and terrible day when cruelty received its coup de grâce.
These are the things that make two peoples one. Political unions, unless they are otherwise reinforced, are doomed to a brief and unhappy existence; but here we stand on the ground of a human proposition.
And well may we ask this question — if the American and British peoples cannot understand each other and live and labor hereafter as brothers in the cause of mankind, what two nations can ? True, we have had our grievances one against the other, but what two nations have had so few, and those few of a sort that could be so easily forgotten by the exercise of a little common sense and right feeling on both sides? What hope is there for a general understanding among all nations if you and we fail to agree? Surely the whole world will look to the character of our mutual relations for the first signs that such a thing as international friendship is possible. It is for us to show the way; and if we fail who, in heaven’s name, is likely to succeed? Unless I am much mistaken, the beginning has already been made; and it has been made from the very point which of all others is the most favorable for further advance.
As to the effects on national character of the further development of this beginning, I would call attention to a principle I halve already mentioned — that the value of everything in this world depends on the other things with which it is mixed. When human or national characteristics are brought into close association, by work or suffering or fighting for a common purpose, the result is not a mechanical mixture, as when sand and sugar are shaken up together, but has rather the nature of a chemical combination — indeed, of a union yet more intimate than that. A third something is always produced, in which the original elements can be discovered only by a process of retrospective analysis. Each individual difference suffers change, by contact with the differences on the other side; just as, to take an example under our eyes, the traditional foreign policy of America is being changed at this moment by contact with that of the European Allies, while theirs also — and this perhaps is the more important aspect of the matter — is being changed by contact with hers.
Some inkling of what is to be expected may be gained by a glance at the actual modifications which went on, through the normal intercourse of the two nations, for many years before the war. One has often heard it said, with much truth, that English society was becoming Americanized, and again that American society was becoming Anglicized. But the result of American influence on English society was to produce something wholly dissimilar from American society; while the corresponding influence on the other side was to produce something wholly dissimilar from English society. Transplant either influence to the soil of the other, and you get a new product altogether; and two new products, when the process is reciprocal.
The Americanized Englishman — and I should be proud to learn that I am one myself—is not in the least like an American; and would never be mistaken for one. He is a modified Englishman. Per contra, an Anglicized American — and again I am proud to say that I have known several — is not in the least like an Englishman. He is a modified American. Indeed, I believe it is strictly true that an Americanized Englishman and an Anglicized American are more distinct from each other than an American and an Englishman who have never been modified in this manner. By taking on each other’s colors, they add fresh colors to the list of those originally in being, and we may hope the world is correspondingly enriched. Each comes into possession of a new individuality, which differs, not only from that which he formerly had, and from that which has influenced him, but still more from the corresponding product on the other side.
And this is just as it should be. By coming under each other’s influence, an American and an Englishman unquestionably surrender something of their individuality; but at the same time the new individualities which they acquire in the process are at least as distinct from one another as were the old which they have surrendered.
We may, therefore, take it for granted that new characteristics will be developed on both sides as the result of our present union in a common task. What these will be, no man can say with precision and in detail. But having regard to the cause which has brought us together, which is the highest that earth could offer to united effort and sacrifice, I do not hesitate to believe that the sequel will be in keeping with the nobility of this beginning, and that the outcome, as it develops through the ages, will be such that neither side will find a reason for regret.
- The reader will, of course, remember, that the author, who is the Principal of Manchester College, Oxford, writes as an Englishman. — THE EDITOR.↩