Counter-Currents/Waiting

For works with similar titles, see Waiting.

Waiting


IN the most esteemed of his advisory poems, Mr. Longfellow recommends his readers to be "up and doing," and at the same time learn "to labour and to wait." Having, all of us, imbibed these sentiments in their harmonious setting when we were at school, we have, all of us, endeavoured for many months to put such conflicting precepts into practice. Mr. Longfellow, it will be remembered, gave precedence to his "up and doing" line; but this may have been due to the exigencies of verse. We began by waiting, and we waited long. Our deliberation has seemed to border on paralysis. But back of this superhuman patience—rewarded by repeated insult and repeated injury—was a toughening resolution which snatched from insult and injury the bitter fruit of knowledge. We are emerging from this period of suspense a sadder and a wiser people, keenly aware of dangers which, a year ago, seemed negligible, fully determined to front such dangers with courage and with understanding.

When Germany struck her first blow at Belgium, the neutral nations silently acquiesced in this breach of good faith. The burning of Louvain, the destruction of the Cathedral of Rheims, were but the first fruits of this sinister silence. The sinking of the Lusitania followed in the orderly sequence of events. It was a deliberate expression of defiance and contempt, a gauntlet thrown to the world. The lives it cost, the innocence and helplessness of the drowned passengers, their number and their nationalities, all combined to make this novelty in warfare exactly what Germany meant it to be. We Americans had tried (and it had been hard work) to bear tranquilly the misfortunes of others. Now let us apply our philosophy to ourselves. Herr Erich von Salzmann voiced the sentiment of his countrymen when he said in the Berlin "Lokal Anzeiger":—

"The Lusitania is no more. Only those who have travelled by sea can appreciate the extraordinary impression which this news will make all over the world. . . . The fact that it was we Germans who destroyed this ship must make us proud of ourselves. The Lusitania case will obtain for us more respect than a hundred battles won on land."

The severing of fear from respect is a subtlety which has not penetrated the mind of the Prussian. He recognizes no such distinction, because his doctrine of efficiency embraces the doctrine of frightfulness. His Kultur is free from any ethical bias. The fact that we may greatly fear lust, cruelty, and other forms of violence, without in the least respecting these qualities, has no significance for him. He frankly does not care. If he can teach the French, the English, or the Americans to fear him in 1916, as he taught the Chinese to fear him in 1900, and by the same methods, he will be well content.

But was it fear which paralyzed us when we heard that American women and children had been sacrificed as ruthlessly as were the Chinese women and children sixteen years ago? The fashion in which American gentlemen died on the Lusitania, as on the Titanic, may well acquit us of any charge of cowardice. Whatever "respect" ensued from that pitiless massacre was won by the victims, not by the perpetrators thereof. Why, then, when the news was brought, did we feverishly urge one another to "keep calm"? Why did we chatter day after day about "rocking the boat," as though unaware that the blow which sent us reeling and quivering was struck by a foreign hand? Why did we let pass the supreme moment of action, and settle down to months of controversy? And what have we gained by delay?

All these questions have been answered many times to the satisfaction and dissatisfaction of the querists. If we had severed diplomatic and commercial relations with Germany, she might have declared war, and we did not want to fight; not, at least, on such provocation as she had given us, and with such ships and munitions as we could command. There was a well-founded conviction that no step involving the safety of the nation should be taken impetuously, or under the influence of resentment, or without discreet calculation of ways and means. There was also a rational hope that Germany might be induced to disavow the savage slaughter of noncombatants, and promise redress. And always in the background of our consciousness was a lurking hope that the pen would prove mightier than the sword. The copy-books say that it is mightier, and where shall we look for wisdom, if not to the counsels of the copy-book!

The correspondence which ensued between the Administration in Washington and the Imperial Government in Berlin was so remarkable that it may well serve as a model for generations yet unborn. If the Polite Letter-Writer ever broadens its sphere to embrace diplomatic relations, it could not do better than reprint these admirable specimens of what was thought to be a lost art. The urbanity and firmness of each American note filled us with justifiable pride. Also with a less justifiable elation, which was always dissipated by the arrival of a German note, equally urbane and equally firm. Germany was more than willing to state at length and at leisure her reasons for sinking merchant ships, provided she could safely and uninterruptedly continue the practice. Such warfare she defined in her note of July 9 as a "sacred duty." "If the Imperial Government were derelict in these duties, it would be guilty before God and history of the violation of those principles of highest humanity which are the foundation of every national existence."

The German is certainly at home in Zion. If his god be a trifle exacting in the matter of human sacrifice, he is otherwise the most pliant and accommodating of deities. It is one of our many disadvantages that we have no American god. Only the Divinity, whose awful name is, by comment consent, omitted from diplomatic correspondence.

When our hopes sank lowest and our hearts burned hottest, the note of September 1, 1915, brought its welcome message of concession. It is as little worth while to analyze the motives which prompted this change of front as it is worth while to speculate upon its sincerity. In the light of subsequent events, we are painfully aware that our satisfaction was excessive, our self-congratulations unwarranted, our jubilant editorials a trifle overcharged. But at the time we believed what we wanted to believe, we joyfully assumed that Germany had been converted to the ways of humanity, and that she stood ready to anger her own people for the sake of conciliating ours.

Why the submarine warfare should have so endeared itself to the Teuton heart is a problem for psychologists to elucidate. There is little about it to evoke a generous enthusiasm. It lacks heroic qualities. The singularly loathsome song which celebrated the sinking of the Lusitania is as remote in spirit from such brave verse as "Admirals All," as those old sea-dogs were remote in spirit from the foul work of Von Tirpitz. No flight of fancy can conceive of Nelson counting up the women and children he had drowned. And because the whole wretched business sickened as well as affronted us, we hailed with unutterable relief any modification of its violence. For the first time in many months our souls were lightened of their load. We felt calm enough to review the summer of suspense, and to ask ourselves sincerely and soberly what were the lessons that it had taught us.

The agitation produced in this country by a terrible—and to us unexpected—European war was intensified in the spring of 1915 by the discovery that we were not so immune as we thought ourselves. It dawned slowly on men's minds that the sacrifice of the nation's honour might not after all secure the nation's safety; and this disagreeable doubt impelled us to the still more disagreeable consideration of our inadequate coast defences. Then and then only were we made aware of the chaotic confusion which reigned in the minds of our vast and unassimilated population. Then and then only did we understand that perils from without—remote and ascertainable—were brought close and rendered hideously obscure by shameful coöperation from within.

Ten years ago, two years ago, we should have laughed to scorn the suggestion that any body of American citizens—no matter what their lineage—would be disloyal to the State. A belief in the integrity of citizenship was the first article of our faith. To-day, the German-American openly disavows all pretence of loyalty, and says as plainly and as publicly as he can that he will be betrayed into no conflict with his "mother country," unless the United States be actually invaded,—by which time the rest of us would feel ourselves a trifle insecure. It is strange that the men who, had they remained in their mother country (a choice which was always open to them), would never have ventured a protest against Germany's aggressive warfare, should here be so stoutly contumacious. What would have happened to the president of the New York State German-American Alliance, had he lived in Berlin instead of in Brooklyn, and had he spoken of the Kaiser as he dared to speak of Mr. Wilson! The license which the German (muzzled tightly in Germany) permits himself in the United States, is not unlike the license which the newly emancipated slaves in the South mistook for liberty when the Civil War was ended. It takes as many generations to make a freeman as it does to make a gentleman.

The inevitable result of this outspoken disloyalty at home was a determined and very hurtful pressure from abroad. A big, careless, self-confident nation is an easy prey; and while we waited, not very watchfully, Germany seized many chances to hit us below the belt, and hit us hard. The fomenting of strikes and labour agitation; the threatening of German workmen employed in American factories; the misuse of the radio service at Sayville, and the continued sending of code messages; the affidavits of Gustav Stahl before the Federal Grand Jury, and his assisted flight from the authorities; the forged American passports with which German spies wander over England and the Continent; the diplomatic indiscretions—to put it mildly—of German and Austrian ambassadors; the mysterious activities of German officials, which we were too inexperienced to understand;—all these things filled us with anger and alarm. We could not resort to the simple measures of Italians, who in Philadelphia stoned the agents whom they found trying to hold back reservists about to sail for Italy. We bore each fresh affront as though inured to provocation; but we bore it understandingly, and with deep resentment. If ever our temper snaps beneath the strain, the anger so slow to ignite will be equally hard to extinguish.

Playing consciously or unconsciously into the hands of Germany are the pacifists,—a compact body of men and women, visibly strengthened by months of indecision. Their methods may at times be laughable, but we cannot afford to laugh. I do not class under this head any of the so-called "Neutrality Leagues," and "National Peace Councils," which aim at securing a German victory by withholding munitions from the Allies. Such "neutrals" are all partisans parading under a borrowed name, which they have rendered meaningless. They have a great deal of money to spend on advertisements, and posters, and mass meetings. They can any day, in any town, fill a hall with German sympathizers who are all of one mind concerning the duty of noncombatants. Their leaders are well aware that law and usage permit, and have long permitted, to neutral nations the sale of munitions to belligerents. Their followers for the most part know this too. But it seems worth while to profess ignorance. Something can always be accomplished by agitation, were it only a murderous attack on a financier, or the smuggling of dynamite into the hold of a cargo boat.

But in reckoning up our perils, it is the fanatic, not the hypocrite, who must be taken into account. Sincerity is a terrible weapon in the hands of the ill-advised. There can be no contagion of folly, unless that folly be sincere. And what gives the uncompromising, because uncomprehending, pacifist his dangerous force is the fact that he is psychologically as inevitable as were the Iconoclasts, or the Thebaid anchorites, or any other historic instance of recoil. He is the abnormal product of abnormal conditions. The fury of war has bred this child of peace. The fumes of battle have stupefied him. Aggression and defence, brutality and heroism, the might of conquest and the right of resistance, have for him no separate significance. He is one who cannot master—as every sane man must learn to master—the deadly sickness of his soul.

To call the pacifist a coward is simple, but not enlightening. Cowardice is a natural and pervasive attribute of humanity. Few of us can flatly disavow it. There are women opposed to all war because their sons might be shot. A popular song—now employed to raise the spirits of school-children—expresses this sentiment. There are men opposed to all war because they might themselves be shot. So far, no music-hall ditty has exalted them. But this normal human cowardice is not infectious, save in the heat of battle, where, happily, it is seldom displayed. Infectious pacificism is a revolt from war, irrespective of abstract considerations like justice or injustice, and of personal considerations like loss or gain.

History is full of similar revolts, and they have always overstepped the limits of sanity. Because the pagan sensualist tended his body with loathsome solicitude, the Christian ascetic subjected his to loathsome indignities. The excesses of the Roman baths sanctified the uncleanliness of the early monasteries. Just as inevitable is the reaction from a ravenous war to non-resistance. Because Germany's armaments are powerful enough to terrorize Europe, we are bidden to weaken our defences. Because France and Belgium have been attacked and devastated, we are implored to take no steps for self-protection. The appeal sent out by Quaker citizens of Philadelphia—good men, ready, no doubt, to die as honourably as they have lived—was at once a confession of faith and a denial of duty. They asked that the money of the taxpayer should be spent in making "more homes happy," and they were content to leave the security of these happy homes to the unassisted care of Providence. To keep our powder dry implied mistrust of God.

That the authorities of Iowa should strip the American flag of a white border, neatly stitched around it by the pacifists of Fort Dodge, was perhaps to be expected. The action seems peremptory; but if every society were permitted to trim and patch our national emblem, we should soon have as many flags as we have disputants in the field. For months the patient post-office officials passed on without a murmur envelopes ornamented with huge stamps, bearing pictures of a cannon partly metamorphosed into a ploughshare, a bloated child, and a pouncing dove; and inscribed with these soul-subduing lines:—

"I am in favour of world-wide peace,
Spread this idea, and war will cease."

The decoration of envelopes with strange devices has long afforded a vent for pent-up feelings. The peace-stamp was nobly seconded by the "peace-pin," a white enamelled dove, carrying the motto, "World-Peace," and destined—so its wearers assured us—to prove itself "one of the greatest factors in eliminating prejudices and division lines."

Are these puerilities unworthy of consideration and comment? They are not so preposterous as was Mr. Wanamaker's suggestion that we should recompense Germany for the trouble and expense she had incurred in seizing Belgium by paying her $100,000,000,000 for her spoils. They are not so demoralizing as the teaching of American school-children to calculate how many bicycles they could buy for the money spent on the battleship Oregon, or how many tickets for a ball-game could be provided at the price of the American navy. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is to be congratulated on having devised a scheme by which boys and girls can be taught arithmetically to place pleasure above patriotism. If Germans teach their children to deny themselves some portion of their mid-day meal for the needs of Germany, and Americans teach their children to hold ball-games and bicycles more sacred than the needs of America, what chance have the men we rear against men reared to discipline and self-sacrifice!

When an anti-enlistment league can be formed in a country which may possibly be called to war, and anti-enlistment pledges can be signed by young men who promise never to enroll themselves for their nation's defence, we have cause for apprehension. When college students can be found petitioning for peace at any price, we have cause for wonder. When women who have suffered nothing fling scorn at men who have suffered all things, we have cause in plenty for resentment.

Cause, too, for sorrow that such evil words should be so lightly spoken. It was but a dreary laugh that was provoked by Miss Addams's picture of intoxicated regiments bayoneting one another under the stimulating influence of drink. Laughter is hard to come by in these dark days; but Heaven knows we should gladly have foregone the mirth to have been spared a slander so unworthy. The snatching of honour from the soldier in the hour of his utmost trial is possible only to the pacifist, who, sick with pity for pain, has lost all understanding of the things which ennoble pain: of fidelity, and courage, and the love of one's country, which, next to the love of God, is the purest of all emotions which winnow the souls of men.

The mad turmoil of folly and disaffection was kept at high pressure by the adroitness of the Imperial Government in juggling with technicalities. While we fed, like Hamlet, on the chameleon's dish, and, "promise-crammed," debated windily over words, ship after ship was sunk, and fresh exonerations and pledges were served up for our entertainment. It became difficult even for German-Americans to know just where they stood, and how far they might fittingly express their contempt for the United States, without out-distancing the Fatherland. When the "Friends of Peace" in Chicago cheered the sinking of the Hesperian,—an exploit naturally gratifying to peaceful souls,—they were silenced by more prudent members of the convention, who bethought themselves that this illustration of good faith might in turn be politely regretted. All that was left for these enthusiasts was to praise Germany's "magnanimity," to brag of her "historic friendship" for America (apparently under the impression that Lafayette was a Prussian officer), to regret the "hysteria" of Americans over the drowning of their countrymen, and to ascribe the whole war to the machinations of "Grey and Asquith, and Delcassé, and Poincaré,"—"demons whom we should hiss and howl into the abyss of Hell."

There was plenty of disaffection in 1776, plenty in 1861; but we fought our two great wars without dishonour. If the Germans, well aware of our unpreparedness and of our internal dissensions, have flouted us unsparingly, it is because they are, as they have always been, densely incapable of reading the souls of men. Let us not add to our own peril by misreading the soul of Germany. We lack her discipline, we lack her unity, we lack her efficiency, the splendid result of thirty years' devotion to a single purpose. It avails us very little to analyze the "falling sickness" which has made her so mighty. Dr. Lightner Witmer, in a profoundly thoughtful and dispassionate paper on "The Relation of Intelligence to Efficiency," diagnoses her disease as "primitivism,"—"meaning thereby a reversion in manners, customs, and principles to what is characteristic of a lower level of civilization." Mr. Owen Wister, who is as poignantly eloquent as Dr. Witmer is logical and chill, reaches in "The Pentecost of Calamity" a somewhat similar conclusion. "The case of Germany is a hospital case, a case for the alienist; the mania of grandeur complemented by the mania of persecution." Even Mr. Bryan (always a past-master of infelicitous argument) tells us that a war with Germany is impossible, because it would be like "challenging an insane asylum;"—as if an insane asylum which failed to restrain its inmates could be left unchallenged by the world.

It is unwise to minimize our danger on the score of our saner judgment or higher morality. These qualities may win out in the future, but we are living now. Germany is none the less terrible because she is obsessed, and we are not a whit safer because we recognize her obsession. The German war-maps of Paris, cut into sections and directing which sections were to be burned, are grim warnings to the world. It is disturbing to think how insensitive Paris was to her peril when those maps were prepared. It is disturbing to think that a fool's paradise is always the most popular playground of humanity. In the "Atlantic Monthly" for August, 1915, an Englishman explained lucidly to American readers (the only audience patient enough to hear him) that non-resistance is the road to security. Mr. Russell, "a mathematician and a philosopher," is confident that if England would submit passively to invasion, and refuse passively to obey the invader, she would suffer no great wrong. Had he read "Sandford and Merton" when he was a little boy, it might possibly occur to him that Germany would treat the non-resisting strikers as Mr. Barlow treated Tommy, when that misguided child refused to dig and hoe. Had he read the "Bryce report,"—which is not pleasant reading,—he might feel less sure that English homes and English women would be safe from assault because they lacked protectors.

The same happy confidence in our receptivity and in our limitless good nature was shown by Professor Kraus, who, in the "Atlantic Monthly" for September, 1915, conveyed to us in the plainest possible language his unfavourable opinion of the Monroe Doctrine and of its supporters. No German could be less "nice" in concealing his contempt than was this ingenuous contributor; and nothing could be better for us than to hear such words spoken at such a time. The threat of a "general accounting" was not even presented suavely to our ears, but it left us no room for doubt.

That two such arguments from two such sources should have enlivened our term of waiting is worthy of note. The Englishman, seeing us beset by irrationalities, added one more phantasy to our load. The German, seeing us beset by alarms, added one more menace to affright us. Our patience is impervious to folly and to intimidation. We have plenty of both at home. Only an American can understand the cumulative anger in his countryman's heart as affront is added to affront, and the slow lapse of time brings us neither redress nor redemption. However sanguine and however peace-loving we may be, we cannot well base our hopes of future security on the tenderness shown us in the past. If long months of painful suspense, of hope alternating with despondency, and pride with shame, have wrought no other good, they have at least revealed to us where our danger lies. They have bared disloyalty, and have put good citizens on their guard.

Somewhere in the mind of the nation is a saving sanity. Somewhere in the heart of the nation is a saving grace. A day may come when these two harmonious qualities will find expression in the simple words of Cardinal Newman: "The best prudence is to have no fear."