On August 8, 1914, in St. Petersburg, Russia, reservists assembled to protect their fellow Slavs in Serbia from Austro-Hungarian attack. The Russian army suffered a 76 percent casualty rate during the war; only Austria-Hungary’s was higher (90 percent).Associated Press

The causes of this fearful war are often discussed as if they were to be sought in the month before the war actually broke out. We hear men talking as if the exchange of telegrams and notes between the monarchs just before the war could supply an intelligent understanding of the causes of the outbreak. We hear the conversations between the various chancelleries of Europe in July spoken of as if the real cause of the war was to be found in them, or indeed, in the sequence of the orders given for mobilization. I have even read articles in which the cause of the war was found in the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.

Now, to my mind, all these so-called causes are merely superficial events, which might more properly be called the occasions than the causes of the war. To my thinking, the causes of the war are very deep-seated, and have to be traced back through long years, and, indeed, through generations of men. They are states of mind rather than events. They have their sources in racial feelings and to some extent religious differences; in the ambitions of princes; in long-cherished aspirations and ambitions of peoples; in continuously developed policies of governments; and deeper still in great popular emotions …

More and more, as time goes on, this war develops into a conflict between free institutions and autocratic institutions …

If, now, we take it for granted that the question between free and autocratic institutions in Europe, the question of more public liberty, the question of civilization developing under the forms of free government rather than under the forms of autocratic government, is the real issue this war is to decide, it becomes a very interesting study for all the freer peoples how German efficiency is going to turn out in competition with such efficiency as free nations develop …

German efficiency has been an object of great admiration, not only in this country, but in England, France, and Russia, for 25 or 30 years. We have all admired it in the recent commercial and industrial development of Germany—not the less remarkable because it started about 60 years ago from a low level. We have admired it, too, in the efficiency of her military and naval development. It is an extraordinary phenomenon in the history of the 19th century—this wonderful efficiency; but German efficiency is of a peculiar type. It is an efficiency in administration—in business administration, in municipal government strikingly, and in all the national government bureaus. It is an efficiency which takes hold of every child in Germany at birth, and follows every youth and every man and woman through life until death. It is that very efficiency which has prevented the last two generations of Germans from knowing anything about liberty. It is in the highest degree an autocratic efficiency …

The most interesting question to be studied as to the probable outcome of the European War is this—is Germany with its autocracy more efficient or less efficient than France and England with their liberties? The German way of procuring industrial and commercial efficiency is to make each individual man, in the first place, a man well trained for the exact service he is to render, and then to keep him under a severe discipline which will result in his doing every time exactly what he has been trained to do …

Now, what have the freer nations to say about their chance in industrial and military competition with the German autocratic system? They say in speech and action, “We believe a man or a nation will develop greater mental capacity and moral force with freedom than without it. Our philosophy of life teaches that doctrine; our history illustrates it; our practice and experience prove it” …

The efficiency of all these nations is based on a high degree of personal initiative and of political and industrial freedom—not on the subjection or implicit obedience of the individual, but on the energy and goodwill in work which result from individual freedom, ambition, and initiative …

The present war in Europe is going to put to a supreme military test this theory concerning the surest sources of national efficiency. The war ought to demonstrate in the end that German efficiency in war is not so great as that of England and France, if we include in the definition of military efficiency the management of the supporting industries, and skill in summoning and applying financial resources, as well as the management of the troops in actual fighting. The war should demonstrate that a volunteer soldier is, on the whole, more effective than a conscript, because he has more personal initiative, more power of independent action, and more sense of individual responsibility …

The war ought also to prove that the freer a people are, and the more accustomed to the exercise of self-controlled liberty, the more warmly and resolutely they will respond to calls on their courage, endurance, and love of country …

A precious lesson of the war will be this: Toward every kind of national efficiency discipline is good, and cooperation is good; but for the highest efficiency both should be consented to in liberty.


Originally titled "National Efficiency Best Developed Under Free Governments"

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