On the Evening of the New Day

I

A PRINTED page containing the most familiar words becomes unintelligible if there is no punctuation or spacing to indicate where a sentence or paragraph begins or ends. The eye wanders over the monotonous wilderness of letters, through which there is no path by which reason may travel. In trying to take all in at once, we comprehend nothing. And the sequence of events is equally unintelligible, unless we have some way of punctuating time. History is an endless maze of unrelated happenings, until we divide it up into brief portions in which we discern a certain unity of purpose. He who would attempt to expound the meaning of what takes place must follow the example of the preacher, and announce plainly, ‘Here beginneth the first lesson’; and he must be equally circumstantial in declaring in due time, ‘Here endeth the first lesson.’

Of course he knows that in another and in a cosmic sense there is no ending and there is no beginning to the stream of Time. But for our purpose of understanding, we must divide time into portions which our minds can grasp. We talk of the beginning and end of an era, and adjust our minds to the peculiar task which each era presents.

We are all conscious that we are living through one of those critical times which will be marked in history as epoch-making. The world will not be the same as that with which we were familiar before the war.

But when does the new era begin? There are many persons waiting in a more or less skeptical attitude for its formal inauguration. During the war they refused to think of anything else but the grim contest itself. There was nothing to do but to ‘carry on.’ And now that hostilities have ended as suddenly as they began, they still see nothing but confusion. The war has ceased, but the new order has not yet arisen. These idealists who look for a new era find it difficult to believe that it has already come. Civilization seems to them to be in a bad way, and in dealing with it they assume what the old-fashioned family physician used to call ‘a good bedside manner.’ Such people look regretfully to the past, and apprehensively at the immediate present. They do not realize that the course of events has already outrun their hopes.

When does a day begin? Different nations have had their own methods of punctuating time. Our calendar follows the Romans in beginning the day at midnight; for all practical purposes we reckon it from sunrise to sunrise. The Athenians and the Hebrews, however, began their new day at sunset. In the story of creation we are told, ‘And the evening and the morning were the first day.’

This Hebrew habit of beginning the day at sunset has survived even to our own time in regard to the day of rest. The whole significance of Burns’s ‘Cotter’s Saturday Night’ is lost if we forget that to the Scotch Presbyterian Saturday night was a part of the Sabbath. The week’s cares were thrown aside when the peasant saw, in the evening shadows, the beginning of the Lord’s Day.

I remember hearing Henry Ward Beecher tell of his experience as a boy, to whom the Puritan Sabbath was a tiresome interlude between days of glorious play. With his brothers he would stand on a hilltop in Litchfield to watch the sun go down. When it sank, there would go up a joyous shout, and life would begin again with all its pleasant intensity. And from the parsonage Lyman Beecher would emerge to join their sports.

Small boys always begin their holidays ‘the night before.’ They know that the glorious Fourth of July is, and of right ought to be, in full blast at least twelve hours before their elders are ready for the first firecracker; and Christmas Eve is rightly conceived as an integral part of Christmas Day.

The fact is that all creative days begin in the evening, and creative spirits always anticipate the course of events. They do not wait for the dawn of a new era. They resolutely begin the new era at the moment when they see that the old era has ended. The darkness gathers, but it is a time, not for vain repining over that which has passed away, but for eager planning for that which must take its place. There is a quick transfer of interests to new problems which relate themselves to the new period.

The triumph of good health is in the merging of the preceding evening into the day for which it is the preparation. How hearty is the Shakespearean greeting, ‘Good-night till it be morrow.’ There is no appreciable interval between good-night and good-morrow.

Milton’s shepherd, in Lycidas, sang his plaintive lay till the sun sank behind the western hills, and then

... he twitched his mantle blue
To-morrow for fresh woods and pastures new.

This buoyancy of spirit which dwells confidently in the morrow, even before the dawn has come, is natural to Americans. It is a part of the national temperament. It has been developed through contact with the vast resources of a continent which has yielded its treasures to adventurous industry.

It was this spirit, dominant in time of peace, which manifested itself when the nation entered into the stern business of war. It was not readily understood by those more familiar with European than with American habits of thought and feeling. They feared that the masses of the people might be the victims of their too easy faith in ‘manifest destiny.’ Their will to win and their ability to endure might be impaired by their confidence that final victory was inevitable. In their anxiety to improve the morale of the people, the directors of opinion were tempted to appeal to motives of fear or political hatred. They sometimes prophesied dire things, or scolded over national shortcomings. They betrayed a nervous anxiety lest America might not awake.

In the meantime, the real America had awakened, but in its own way. It had awakened, not as a neurasthenic awakes to a vague and benumbing sense of helplessness in the presence of disaster, but as a strong man awakes to the magnitude of his necessary work.

When America entered the war, it was with no intention of restoring the status quo ante bellum. The enormous sacrifices involved could be justified only by creating conditions under which such a tragedy as the world was experiencing could not be repeated. To win the war meant more than the defeat of the Hohenzollerns. The Kaiser stood in the same relation to the worldconflagration in which Mrs. O’Leary’s cow stood to the Chicago fire. He had kicked over the lamp — that was all. When this conflagration is over, said the common-sense American, we must have a fireproof or, at least, a slowburning civilization.

Whoever during the past four years has had the privilege of addressing popular audiences on the problems of war and peace must have noticed that the effective appeal has never been to war-lust or fear, but to the common sense of people who had accepted their responsibility for a reorganization of the world along the lines of democratic freedom. Autocracy had been tried and found wanting. The Tsar and the Kaiser were anachronisms and must get out of the way. There was also the acceptance of the fact that nationalism in the old restricted sense had had its day. The nation must acknowledge its obligation to a new international order.

The power of President Wilson comes from the fact that he voices the aspirations of great masses of the people rather than the interests of any political party or social group. The people have not waited for statesmen to tell them what to do next. While the war was still undecided, they had determined the kind of peace that must follow. They had already begun to work along new lines. They had seized the moral initiative, and are not likely to relinquish it.

II

The historian, when he tells the story of the beginning of the new era, will tell of the way in which America, caught unprepared for war, had in feverish haste to organize and equip armies on a scale before undreamed of. This great achievement was rendered possible only because the Allied fleets and armies stood between her and her foes. America had to do in a year what Germany had methodically accomplished in a generation.

But even if there was unpreparedness in a strictly military sense, there was a preparedness of another kind which was one of the great surprises of the war. Prussia had been organizing for war. America had, with equal intensity, been organizing for peace. Practical idealists, with the equipment of modern science, had been transforming commerce, agriculture, manufacture, education, philanthropy. New standards of efficiency had been recognized. Coöperation had been preached. Religion itself was being reorganized, and the churches, ashamed of being considered refuges from the evil of the world, were becoming centres of spiritual industry. American big business was being touched with idealism, and it was coming to be seen that the biggest business for big men was to make the world a fit place for human beings to live in. And men and women, big of brain and of heart, were undertaking the job. They were no longer open to the taunt which the furies in Shelley’s poem hurled at the timid good: —

They dare not devise good for all mankind,
And yet they know not that they do not dare.

The daring pioneers of the new era were busy devising good for the twentieth century. In the midst of their altruistic dreams, the war came. For a moment they were stunned, as it seemed that the world was reeling back into the abyss of utter barbarism. But quickly they rallied and found in the sudden crisis the opportunity to do, in a large and thorough way, and with the power of great masses, what they had been attempting through small experiments. They saw that the day of small things was over, and that the big things now were the practicable things.

The one thing which these people of the new era had in common was their intolerance of what are called necessary evils. They had studied these evils in their origin and growth, and had convinced themselves that most of them were preventable. They existed only because we had been too lazy and selfish to deal with them in a large, effective, public way. They began to address the conscience in a new tone of authority derived from first-hand information.

Their definition of sin had a more than Puritanic severity. Sin is a preventable evil, cheerfully and piously accepted and acquiesced in. Righteousness is the courageous and skilful coöperation with others to discover and abolish unnecessary evils.

The men of the new era had been convinced that among the unnecessary evils which must be abolished was war itself. As a mode of settling international disputes, it had been discredited. The invention of new instruments of destruction made it too horrible to endure. The only question was how to get rid of it. The appeal to reason had already been made. Then came the tremendous onslaught of Prussian militarism, with its brutal negation of all moral ideals. It was seen at once that all talk of peace was idle so long as this menace existed. Those peace-makers who were not sentimentalists quickly realized the nature of the emergency. In the most literal sense they must engage in a war against war.

While upon the battle-lines of Europe the Allied armies were pressing for a military decision, there was another army at home and in the camps pressing for a moral decision. It was an army of trained social workers, equipped with modern knowledge, and determined that the true ends of the warfare should be gained. They were intelligently organized to counteract as far as possible the evils which hitherto had followed in the train of war.

What have been the natural consequences of past wars, even those which have been waged for the holiest causes? Camp diseases have been accepted as acts of God. Often more soldiers have died of disease than of wounds. Gross immorality on the part of hosts of young men released from the restraints of home has been acquiesced in as a part of the price the nation pays for its military triumph. At home we must resign ourselves to a state of general demoralization which will last for years after the war. There must inevitably be financial irregularities, shameless profiteering, a lowering of family standards, labor unrest, an increase of juvenile delinquency, and the vast, silent misery of those whose breadwinners have sacrificed themselves for their country.

It has always been so. The glory of war is for the few, but the multitudes who have borne the misery have been forgotten. These maimed and ruined little people of the world stand by the wayside murmuring, ‘Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?’ And the great ones of the earth answer coldly, ‘It is nothing. The country and the cause are saved; nothing else matters.’ Did not Napoleon, when the remnants of the Grand Army strewed the snowy roads of Russia, send back the complacent message, ‘The Emperor’s health is good’?

But the men of the new era declared that, while necessary suffering must be accepted as the legitimate price of victory, we must not acquiesce in unnecessary suffering, and we must put the same degree of energy and skill into the work of prevention that we put into every other part of the conduct of the war. To accept these evils without a struggle is to acknowledge ourselves to be defeatists. These domestic evils and this vast moral misery are no more part of the price than gangrene is the price of heroic surgery. Gangrene after the operation is only an evidence of the ignorance and incompetence of the surgeon. The leaders of the new America were determined that, if there must be war, it should be a clean war carried on under antiseptic conditions.

III

I have emphasized the fact that we have already entered upon a new period in the world’s history, for only in the appreciation of the newness of the organizations that need our help can we do our part effectively. It was no new thing for kind-hearted people to do what they could to alleviate the horrors of war. The new thing is that the nation itself organized this work, and demanded our full coöperation as a part of our patriotic duty. It was resolved not to wait till the end of the war before it began the work of reconstruction. It said to every one of us, ‘Let us begin now.’ In order that we might waste no time, it provided, what had never been done before, an army of trained leaders to direct the effort of volunteers.

In the New Testament parable the idlers in the market-place apologized for their idleness by saying, ‘No man hath hired us.’ The United States Government was determined that no citizen might justly offer that excuse. If you wished to be of service, you were shown something useful that you could do. There was a job for everyone. And the jobs that were offered us were not merely ‘for the duration of the war.’ A new phrase was used in official announcements: ‘for the duration of the emergency.’

We now see that the emergency does not necessarily end with the war. The nation has risen to a new sense of its responsibility for its defenders. The welfare of the returned soldier and his family must not be left to chance. The community to which he returns must be made fit for him to live in. Thus have ‘war-aims’ been broadened till they become plans for a new society.

One can see all this by studying the work of a great organization like the American Red Cross. It has been dealing with the emergencies created by the Great War, but it has been content with no temporary makeshifts. One feels that he is watching the beginning of a new and ordered national life. What a multitude of new activities, directed by expert intelligence! It is the effective organization of the goodwill of the community.

Not the least of its functions is to save patriotism from going to waste in mere jingoistic sentiment. It gives definite direction to the citizen who longs to serve his country. The soldier at the front knows that he is doing his duty; but how can one who must stay at home serve the common cause? His only idea of service is apt to be vague and imitative.

I came across the works of one of the ‘New Poets’ of a former generation, which reminds me of the state of mind into which many people fall when trying to reach an exalted state of feeling through the process of imitation. James Eliot, the bard of Guildford, Vermont, published in 1797 a little volume which contains lines written in Marietta, Ohio, in praise of that infant settlement. The poet begins thus: —

Hail, Queen of Rivers, Hail, Columbian Nile,
Along thy beauteous bank I freely roam
And view your cloud-capped mountains which awhile
Will yet seclude me from my native home.
Stupendous monument of power divine,
The muse explores thy solitary height,
By fancy led thy craggy cliffs to climb,
And then to Orient realms extend thy flight.

The reader wonders why he did not see those craggy cliffs and cloud-capped mountains when he visited Marietta. But Eliot, who was a truthful soul though poetic, explains in a footnote that, though these heights were not actually visible from Marietta, he felt justified in putting them in as enhancing the beauty of his verses.

As the would-be poet was enraptured by the grandeur of mountains that were not there, and was oblivious to the beauties of the real Marietta, so it is possible for the patriot, in his contemplation of imaginative duties, to fail to perform those that really belong to him. He is ready for heroics, and he would scale the ‘ toppling crags of Duty, if he could find them. In the meantime’ a multitude of prosaic things needs to be done. He is likely to be oblivious to these things unless they are pointed out to him, and he is shown their relation to a great heroic end.

Now this is precisely what has been done during the Great War. The ordinary citizen has had his duty brought home to him and presented realistically. That is the meaning of Home Service. It is the organization of forces which have heretofore been wasted. It has been far-reaching in its scope and yet intimate in its appeal. It has brought into action a vast army of volunteer workers, who have submitted to discipline under trained leaders.

The individual who had hitherto been thinking in terms of his personal interest or local pride is made to feel that he is a part of a great nation and must subordinate everything to the nation’s welfare. He learns to say ‘we,’ and to give the word a larger meaning than he had ever done before. Taking up a modest task, he has felt the thrill that comes to the soldier when he enlists in the army. The necessary routine is lifted out of its pettiness by the greatness of its purpose. During this war hundreds of thousands of persons have for the first time learned the joy and the power of coöperative effort.

When we think of the new day that is at hand, we speak of the return of the young soldiers and of the effect of their experience. But we must also think of the experience gained by the millions who have not crossed the seas, but who have not been idle spectators of the conflict. You may meet them in every village of the land. They are people of the new era. They have learned lessons in war-time which are to be applied in the years to come.

Here are no non-combatant critics, no easy-chair strategists. These people know how difficult and vast the work is, and they have an instinctive sympathy with those who are in places of authority and responsibility. They measure everything by the actual results. If they are discouraged, they keep the fact to themselves. They speak and act cheerfully because they know that cheerfulness is a power, and fretfulness a contagious disease. To be petulant is a kind of sabotage. It is to put sand in the delicate machinery.

And there are personal jealousies, and petty ambitions, that are tabooed by members of this fellowship of patriotic duty. They have learned that when a committee is appointed to do a work, it is criminal to spend precious time and nervous energy in ministering to the egotism of some member of the committee. There is something important to be done. It is of no consequence who does it, or who gets the credit.

Every group of war-workers has been a school for the study and practice of voluntary coöperation. Here, on the evening of the new day, people have been preparing for the larger and happier work to follow. As they have been working together, they have been thinking together — thinking perhaps more than they have been talking. They have been learning from their own mistakes. One might compile a list of ‘Don’ts.’ But perhaps the most effective would be, not the didactic ‘don’t’ of warning, but the ‘don’t’ of interrogation. The appeal is to the experience of the great army of patriotic workers.

Don’t you see the opportunity for a new and better civilization which may take the place of that which has been so sadly shattered?

Don’t you see that Anarchy is as grave a peril as that of Prussian militarism, and that, to escape it, the free nations must have wisdom and prudence as well as warlike courage?

Don’t you see that what has to be done has to be done quickly, and that the deliberation which is right in quiet days must in times of revolution give way to quick and sure decisions, loyally carried out?

Don’t you see that personal and local considerations have to be subordinated to national and international policy?

Don’t you see that the future is to be determined, not by the wise and prudent persons who, detached from the present struggle, wait for the Future? It is to be determined by the people who bravely and cheerfully and skillfully are dealing with each crisis as it arises, in the light of great ideals.

Mathew Arnold, in a mood of academic despondency, wrote of an age of transition, —

Achilles ponders in his tent,
The kings of modern thought are dumb.
Silent they stand, but not content,
And wait to see the Future come.

There may be some ex-kings of thought who to-day assume this attitude of skeptical detachment. They are the lost leaders, and the great army of liberated humanity sweeps by them. Achilles in his tent was not pondering over the greater issues of the war; he was sulking over a private grievance. He was no more admirable than when dragging the dead body of his adversary around the walls of Troy. The fact was that, in spite of the fable of his admirers, the weak point of Achilles was not in his heel but in his head.

The people who are doing the constructive thinking have not, during the war, been pondering in their tents, nor are they now thirsting for revenge. They have been too busy. They are not waiting to see the Future come. The great era has already been well begun, and they know it.