Who Is Right?

THERE is a distinction between truth and facts which seems valid. Perhaps a single illustration will make clear the distinction. It is a fact that one must look toward the east in the morning to see the sun; that during the day the sun seems to rise in the sky, crossing the meridian at noon; and that in the evening one must look westward. These are facts, but what is the truth? For centuries it was proclaimed as truth that the sun would move across the sky during the day, and that at night, by some device or other, he crossed to the other horizon. Those who challenged this statement of truth and proclaimed another were branded as heretics; but now their statement is accepted, namely, that the earth moves rather than the sun. Thus from the same facts different notions of the truth are obtained.

A small group of Americans found themselves on board a vessel bound for Europe in June. As they became acquainted, they discovered that they disagreed about many things. It was apparent that their interpretations of the facts which they might observe would be different. However, they were agreed about one thing. They had a common desire to learn the truth and to report facts accurately. Following is an attempt to report some of these facts. However, the writer is conscious that occasionally he will stray into the realm of trying to state what is the truth. In such cases he hopes to report the basis of the conclusions reached.

Poverty in England

It is a fact that, as I came out of the door each morning from the vicarage where I lived in the Whitechapel district in London, I frequently would see an old man wearing an overcoat, with a cap drawn down over his face. It appeared later that the reason he wore the overcoat was the lack of clothing under it. He would be seen putting his hand down into the garbage-pail of the family who lived near, to find a piece of chicken-bone, or some peelings, or a tomato-skin, that he might carry away in his pocket to eat or gnaw upon. He was hungry.

It is a fact that we could walk around a block or two and on another street see a woman standing just off the curb in the gutter, facing the sidewalk. At a casual glance one would think her to be about fifty years of age. If one looked a little more closely, one would decide that, in spite of the lines in her face, her years were less than thirty. She held in her arms a child who could hardly have been three months old. Through much of the day she would stand there, holding out shoestrings for sale to the passers-by. There was no place for her to sit down and no place to put her child. She too was hungry.

It is a fact that there were at that time about 1,300,000 men idle who wanted to work. Coal was being sold below the price for which it could be produced in England — the coal from Germany which was being delivered as Reparations. Manufactured goods were being sold wherever there was any buying-power in Europe below the cost of production in England — goods manufactured in Germany by the sweated labor which is a result of the rapidly depreciating mark. Ships were lying idle and rusting in the harbors because of the oversupply of shipping built during the war. With miners, shop-workers and shipbuilders idle, there was poverty among the laborers in England.

It is a fact that, while there has been a plan for extending the opportunity of public education to children from the fourteenth year to the eighteenth year, this plan has been postponed indefinitely by the Government because taxation is now so high that they cannot increase it for the additional schools. With income tax six shillings in the pound, or thirty per cent, the nation must abandon for the time being that which corresponds to our high schools. Thus the children suffer.

As we were going through the old Castle of Warwick, we noted the many pieces of armor and of arms whose dates must have gone back for centuries. We were told that every piece had been worn or used by members of the family whose name is so intertwined with the history of England. As we saw these and the paintings of the various members of the family as well as of former kings of England, and as we learned of the famous artists who had worked there, we gradually came to realize what an old home is; for there is no such thing in America. We had heard people say in America that they hated to leave the old home; but we could hardly realize what the words might mean to a family as ancient as this one. Then, when we inquired how it happened that repairs were being made so completely here, we were told that the estate is now rented to a Chicago millionaire. Taxes are six shillings in the pound.

We heard lecturers twice a day for a month, and not one of them complained because America insists on payment of the war debt. We learned that the money borrowed from America was loaned to France; that England financed herself through all the years of the war—through those years when we were selling her munitions at high prices, as well as the later years when we were her ally. We learned that France up to date has paid nothing on principal or interest. Thus England is paying the debt of her allies to America, and her tax is six shillings in the pound.

To get the English point of view fully with this background, let us remember that the conditions of war which still exist in Europe are destroying the markets, and thus produce the idleness in England. Many English people feel not only that France is maintaining an army relatively larger than that of Prussia in 1914, but that she is assisting in the maintenance of the armies of Poland, Jugoslavia, and Rumania. Also they ask: Against whom can the new air-fleet of France be used? Hence the insistence of England that justice be done to Germany, so that she may begin to work again, that conditions may become normal in Europe. England remembers that, after the defeat of Napoleon, in the making of the treaty of 1815, she insisted that France should be given a chance to come back, so that normal conditions might again hold sway in Europe.

Fear in France

One morning we sat in a garden in the grounds of an automobile factory in Paris and listened to a man from the Foreign Office. The question was being raised persistently: Is France really getting Reparations in the Ruhr? This man pointed to one of the managers of the plant, who was still in active business life, as he said: ‘That man and all his age have seen this thing twice. They saw the German armies cross our border in 1870 and 1871. They knew of the treaty which Bismarck presented. They have trained up their children through a generation to prepare for the next catastrophe of that kind. They have seen it come, and now they all insist that it must not happen again. Their children must not live through their growing years under the same shadow, and be forced to prepare for the same conflict. We must have security.’

The members of our party carried with them these words, ‘Reparations’ and ‘security,’ as they sought the truth about the Ruhr. In a conversation with another prominent man these questions were asked again and the additional one: How can France get security by her activity in the Ruhr? The reply was: ‘ It would be well for all Europe, and we think it would be well for the Germans themselves, if we could undo the work of Bismarck.’

Members of our party were thoughtful. What was the work of Bismarck? We remembered reading of many kingdoms; Prussia, Hesse, Bavaria, Saxony, Westphalia, and others; then came Bismarck, and these quarreling States were united into the great nation whose armies had crossed that boundary twice. We compared the French phrase, ‘undo the work of Bismarck,’ with the English phrase, ‘Balkanizing Germany.’ We discovered that they were saying the same thing. The difference was in point of view. A little later we heard other phrases in Berlin and Essen — ‘dismemberment,’ ‘tearing us to pieces.’ We discovered that they were saying the same thing from still another point of view.

We took these words, ‘Reparations’ and ‘security,’ up to Arras, to see some of the devastated areas. After crossing Vimy Ridge, we went on toward a partly built stone tower which appeared in the distance, at the top of a long, gently sloping hill. A little more than half a mile from the tower we climbed from our automobile and walked up the slope, moving all the time among white crosses. When we reached the tower, we discovered that we had not gone to the other side of the cemetery but only to the middle, and we could look down the hill beyond as much farther, over another area of white crosses. As we wandered among them, we found on each cross a name, and we began to realize that they were individuals, persons, who were buried there.

As we looked back along the path up which we had come, we saw a small family — an elderly man, an elderly woman, and a young woman. They wandered out among the crosses until they came to the one they were seeking, and there they left flowers. We realized that this time the name on the cross was the name of a son in the family. Quickly we looked in another direction and there was coming another small family — a woman of about thirty and two little children. They found the cross for which they sought and left their flowers. This time the name was the name of a father.

Some new meaning began to creep in to our understanding. All told, we counted seven such families with the fresh flowers. Then we looked about, and saw the flowers of yesterday and those of the day before, and then the days blended into one another as the more faded flowers were seen. One can hardly stand at the centre of Lorette Cemetery and view one hundred thousand white crosses, and fail to sympathize with the French when they say, ‘security.’

Starvation in Germany

We found in Germany that many of the stories so well known in America of the violation of Belgium had never been heard — the stories that were true. We also found that many of the stories so fully believed in America had never been heard — the stories that were not true. Likewise, in the Ruhr we heard many stories, which perhaps were true, that we were sure were not heard in France. Also we heard many stories, which perhaps were not true, that one did not hear in France. But the little children heard them, as did the French children hear the stories from Belgium. Thirty thousand children were sent out from Essen for the summer, to be fed and housed in the homes of German families all over the Reich. We wondered: did they carry all these stories? A woman was chatting with a little boy of nine, a member of one of the families just being deported. They talked about the shops and the railways, and she asked him what he would do when he grew up, expecting him to say that he would be an engineer or a mechanic; but he answered, ‘Fight the French.’ There are seventy-five million Germans in Europe and forty million French. We were told that there are six German children being born this year to one French child, and we wondered: Will France get security this way?

We had been told of the advantages of the mark’s depreciation — that there would be a nation without a debt, that all the farmers had paid off their mortgages. Two stories illustrate the German point of view. A German woman laughingly said one morning: ‘I was getting some potatoes, and I suddenly realized that the price of those potatoes would pay the mortgage on my house, so I stopped and paid the mortgage, ten thousand marks.’ Another German woman to whom this was said remarked: ‘But I know the man who held the mortgage on the house, and it was one fourth of his life savings.’ In a soup line was an old man. We inquired about him. He had been a thrifty shopkeeper. He had worked hard and saved. He had retired a few years ago with 100,000 marks (about $20,000 then). This would keep him and his wife in their old age. The day we saw him a pound of beef cost 800,000 marks, and he was in the line waiting for his dish of soup.

A little later we sat in one of the committee rooms of the Reichstag building in Berlin. This was the day that Stresemann was building his first Cabinet. There was some disagreement about one of the appointments, and the Government was not formed until the following day. On this account we had opportunity to interview some of the men concerned. In talking with one who is well known in America, we asked him also: ‘ Why is France in the Ruhr? ‘

He said: ‘Certainly not to get Reparations, for one does n’t destroy the earning power of those from whom he wishes to collect.’

We hinted that it might be security, because twice in this generation the German armies had invaded France.

He said: ‘Yes, twice in this generation— the generation we know best. But in the generation of our grandfathers Napoleon crossed that boundary twice.’

These are some of the facts. One wonders what is the truth. Is it the truth that the Germans are all Huns? Is it the truth that the English are cold and selfish, always balancing Germany against France? Or is it the truth that the great masses in all these nations desire peace above everything else? Perhaps the English sincerely want only normal conditions and business as usual, so that they can work and earn and prosper. Perhaps the French really want only security. Perhaps, if they could be assured of safety, they would be fair and even generous lo Germany. Perhaps the Germans are also kind and law-abiding and lovers of children. Perhaps they would be glad to pay Reparations if only they could go to work and eat again.

In AmericaWhat ?

America has a unique prestige with her vast wealth, and her surplus of foodstuffs. All recognize her as disinterested. All have seen the effects of her good-will. In England it is said: ‘If America had not withdrawn, the Reparations commission would not be simply a French instrument.’ In France it is said: ‘If America had not withdrawn, we could have been guaranteed security and we should not have been obliged to enter the Ruhr.’ In Germany it is said: ‘If America had not withdrawn, we should have had a square deal.’ In America it is said: ‘ We must not become entangled in the miserable politics of Europe. The League of Nations is impotent. The hatreds are beyond our understanding.’

What is the truth? Is it true that all Americans simply wish to cry, ‘Fire! Fire!’ That they rejoice because the present means of fighting the conflagration is unsuccessful? Is it true that they do not wish to take any part that will be helpful to the European peoples? Is it true that ‘An American and a publican went up to the temple to pray’? Perhaps even in America the mass of people is composed of those who care, who sympathize, and who desire leadership to show them how their country can be of service in the world.

May they soon have such leadership!