This book is made up of articles written abroad in the spring and summer of 1918 and cabled or mailed back for publication at home. For convenience in arrangement, a few of these papers have been broken up into sectional subdivisions with new chapter headings inserted; otherwise the matter is here presented practically in its original form.
Read alsoEurope Rivisited
It has been given to the writer to behold widely dissimilar aspects of the Great War. As a neutral observer, hailing from a neutral country, I was a witness, in Belgium, in northern France, in Germany and in England, to some of its first stages. That was back in 1914 when I was for awhile with the British, then for a period with the Belgian forces afield, then for a much longer period with the German armies and finally with the British again. I was of like mind then with all my professional brethren serving publications in non-belligerent countries, excepting one or two or three of a more discerning vision than the rest. Behind the perfection of the German fighting machine I did not see the hideous malignant brutality which was there.
In the first half of this present year, as a partisan on the side of my country and its federated associates, I visited England and for a space of months travelled about over France, with two incursions into that small corner of Flanders which at this time remained in the hands of the Allies.
I have seen the Glory of the Coming. I have watched the American Expeditionary Force grow from a small thing into a mighty thing—the mightiest thing, I veritably believe, that since conscious time began, has been undertaken by a free people entering upon a war on foreign shores with nothing personally to gain except a principle, with nothing to maintain except honour, with nothing to keep except their national self-respect. In this war our only spoils out of the victory will be the establishment of the rights of other peoples to rule themselves, our only territorial enlargements will be the graves where our fallen dead sleep on alien soil, our only tangible reward for all that we are giving in blood and treasure and effort and self-denial, will be the knowledge that in a world crisis, when the liberties of the world were imperilled, we, as a world-power and as perhaps the most conspicuous example in the world, of a democracy, did our duty by ourselves, by our republican neighbours overseas and by our children and their children and their children's children.
No longer ago than last March, it was a small thing we had done, as viewed in the light of our then visible performances in France and an even smaller thing as viewed in the light of what our public men, many of them, and our newspapers, some of them, had promised on our behalf nearly a year earlier when we came into the war. At the beginning there was an army to be created; there was a navy to be built up; there was a continent to be crossed and an ocean to be traversed if we meant to link up all the States of our Union with all our plans; there was a military establishment to be started from the grass roots; there were ninety millions of us to be set from the ways of peace into the ways of war. But because some of our politicians professed to believe that by virtue of our resources, our energy and our so-called business efficiency we could do the impossible in an impossibly brief time, and more especially because, among the masses of Continental Europe there was a tendency to look upon us as a race of miracle-workers living in a magic-land and accomplishing unutterable wonders at will, and finally because these same masses accepted the words of our self-appointed, self-anointed prophets as they might accept Gospel-writ, a profound disappointment over the seeming failure of America to produce her legions on European soil, followed hard upon the exaltation which had prevailed among our Allies immediately after we broke with the common enemy of mankind. In France I know this to have been true; in other countries I have reason to believe it was true. As month after month passed until nearly a twelvemonth had gone by and still the armed millions from America did not materialise, I think it only natural and inevitable that, behind their hands and under their breaths, the Poilus called our soldiers "Boy Scouts" and spoke of our effort as "The Second Children's Crusade." For thanks be to a few men among us who worked with their mouths rather than with their hands, the French populace had been led to expect so very much of us in so short a space of time and yet there now was presented before their eyes, so very little as the tangible proofs of our voiced determination to offer all that we had and all that we were, in the fight for decency and for humanity.
Do you remember when, on or about the beginning of the last week of March, General Pershing offered to the Allied command the available mobile strength of the army under him, for service to aid the British, the French, the Belgians and the Portuguese in stemming the great German offensive which had been launched on the twenty-first day of that month? Pershing made the offer in all good faith and in all good faith it was accepted. But at that moment all he could spare out of the trenches and send across France from the East to the West to go into the line in threatened Picardy was one division of considerably less than forty thousand men; a puny handful as they measure fighting forces these times; and that division was stayed in part on French rations, equipped in part with borrowed French ordnance and provided in large part with French munitions. Without French aid it probably could not have gone forward at all; without French aid it could not have maintained itself after it had taken over the Normandy sectors to which Foch assigned it. It was not the fault of our military leaders abroad, perhaps it was not the fault of our people at home that, fifty weeks after entering the war, we were able to render only so small a share of immediate help in this most critical juncture of the entire war. But it was the fault of those who had boasted, those who had bragged, those who had preached at home what they did not practice, that the French people were beginning to think—and to whisper—that the United States had failed to live up to its pledges. These people had no way of knowing what we were accomplishing over here; they must judge by what they might see for themselves over there.
The great awakening came, though, before the first of June. Over-night, it almost seemed, our army began to function as an army. The sea became alive with our transports, the land became alive with our troops. Instead of two hundred and some odd thousands of men on French soil, we had half a million, then a million, then a million and a half. No longer were our forces without tanks of American manufacture, without machine-guns of American manufacture, without a proper and adequate equipment of heavy guns of American manufacture. There was even hope that our aeroplane production, up until then the most ghastly and pitiable failure of all, might by autumn, begin to measure up, in some degree at least, to the sanguine press-notices of the year before—1917. We who in France could see the growth of this thing came to feel that perhaps all of our dollar-a-year commercial giants were not being grossly overpaid and we came proudly to realise that our country now was responding with all its strength to the responsibilities it had assumed. The Yanks were no longer on the way; they were here—here in number sufficient to enable us to lend a strong and ever-strengthening hand in the turning-back of the enemy and in bringing closer the certainty of a complete triumph over him. It was the Glory of the Coming. Moreover it should not be forgotten in the reckoning-up of causes and results that the lodging of the allied command in the hands of one captain—the most powerful single factor in inspiring victory—was brought about largely through American insistence upon the election of a single leader and a unified leadership for all the forces of the confederated nations in the field of the western theatre of the war.
I sometimes think the most splendid thing I have seen in this war was not some individual act of heroism, or devotion, or resolution—glorious though it may have been. I sometimes think the most splendid thing I have seen was the making-over of nations, literally before my eyes, in the fiery furnace of this war. I have seen little Belgium wearing the marks of her transcendent sacrifice and her unutterable suffering, as the Redeemer of Man wore the nail-marks of His Crucifixion; I have seen Britain transformed from the fat, contented, slothful, old grandmother of the nations, sitting by the chimney-piece and feeding herself torpid on her plenty, into the militant Britain of yore that has put so many millions of her sons into khaki and so many of the ladies of Germany into mourning; I have seen France become an incomparably glorious model, before all the world for all time, of the heights to which a free people may rise in defence of national pledges, national integrity and national existence; and I have seen my own country taking her proper place, in the most desperate emergency that ever confronted civilisation, as a people united, determined, valiant and steadfast—the spirit of the New World binding herself with steel grapples to the best that is in the Old World and inevitably taking the first steps in the long-delayed campaign of understanding and conciliation and renewed affection with our kinspeople and our brethren of the British Isles who speak the same mother-tongue which we speak and with whom we are joint inheritors of Runnymede and Agincourt.
As I write these lines, victory appears to be very near. Seemingly, it is coming one year sooner than we, who were in France and Belgium in the first months of 1918, thought it would come. And speaking for my fellow-American correspondents as well as for myself, I make so bold as to say that all of us are devoutly hopeful that our leaders will make it a complete, not a conditional victory. For surely those who are without mercy themselves cannot appreciate and do not deserve mercy from others. To our way of thinking, the vanquished must be made to drink the cup of defeat to its bitterest lees, not because of any vengeful desire on our part to inflict unnecessary punishment and humiliation upon him, but because he who had no other argument than force, can be cured of his madness only by force. We who have seen what he has wrought by the work of his hands among his helpless victims in other lands believe this with all our hearts.
I. S. C.
New York, November, 1918.