Ten Years Near the German Frontier: A Retrospect and a Warning
By George H. Doran Company. 1919. 8vo, 364 pages. Illustrations. $3.00., former United States Minister to Denmark. New York:
THE war has shown that the listening-post may be as important as the gun-emplacement. Minister Egan’ s term at Copenhagen, the ‘whispering gallery of Europe,’extended from 1907 to 1917, until the transfer of the Danish Islands to the United States — his great achievement and America’s entry into the war. It was evidently a pleasure to him to associate with the Danes, whom he pronounces the most interesting people he has met, except the French, and the most civilized of all. But from the beginning his attention was fixed upon Germany; at first, incredulously, following the gaze of others; later, with the enforced conviction that she was only biding her time, and that the time would be short.
Mr. Egan traces and documents the growth of his own illumination as to Germany’s twentiethcentury purposes. We see through our minister’s clear eyes the German propaganda in the three Scandinavian countries. We see the forces of Lutheranism exerted upon the clergy. Germany sought, particularly throughout. Scandinavia, to win over the men of letters; and in this attempt she had an advantage not always realized in English countries. German translation was the door by which the Scandinavian reached a worldaudience. His vogue depended upon German favor. This consideration apparently kept so great an author as Brandes from the attitude most natural to a Dane. It was to the great Swedish Liberal, Braiding, and his followers that the Entente had to look for sympathy. Mr. Egan reminds us that ‘Whatever progress Sweden has made toward democracy is not due Lo intelligent propaganda on the part of America or England.’ On the sturdy democrats of Norway German propaganda could produce little effect; so the Germans resorted to coercion, in the vain hope of breaking the morale of that free-souled people.
As for the United States, we were in the eyes of Europe hopelessly ignorant of everything outside our own borders. Even our ambassadors were shifted as the pawns of home politics. We were utopians when we did act, and it was believed that, however great our provocation, we would not act. Our author lets out his own feelings when he says, after recording bur declaration of war, ‘Further patience would have been a crime,’
Beneath all the rumors and the actuality of war, Minister Egan carried his fixed purpose to secure the Danish Islands. He devotes two long chapters to the story, sometimes amusing, of this negotiation, which appears finally to have been carried through by virtue of his devotion to woman suffrage — how, let the reader discover.
The story ends suddenly with the author’s acceptance of his well-earned retirement; but he does not take leave of us without enforcing the lesson of his experience: ‘Let us not forget that Germany has not changed her ideals; all the forces of the civilized world have not succeeded in changing them. Of democracy, in the American sense of the word, she has no more understanding than Russia — nor at present does she really want to have. . . . But we cannot change the aspirations or the hearts of the Germans. We can only take care that they keep the laws made by nations who have well-directed consciences — this lesson I have learned near to their border.’ H. L. K.