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The World War—Its Meaning and Its Lessons For Us

Whatever differences of opinion—and honest differences of opinion—may have existed and may still exist in America in regard to the great world conflict, there is a wonderful unanimity of thought that has crystallized itself into the concrete form— something must be done in order that it can never occur again. The higher intelligence of the nation must assert itself. It must feel and think and act in terms of internationalism. Not that the feeling of nationalism in any country shall, or even can be eradicated or even abated. It must be made, however, to coordinate itself with the now rapidly growing sense of world-consciousness, that the growing intelligence of mankind, aided by some tremendously concrete forms of recent experience, is now recognizing as a great reality.

That there were very strong sympathies for both the Allied Nations and for the Central Powers in the beginning, goes without saying, How could it be otherwise, when we realize the diverse and complex types of our citizenship?

One of the most distinctive, and in some ways one of the most significant, features of the American nation is that it is today composed of representatives, and in some cases, of enormous bodies of representatives, numbering into the millions, of practically every nation in the world.

There are single cities where, in one case twenty-six, in another case twenty-nine, and in other cases a still larger number of what are today designated as hyphenated citizens are represented. The orderly removal of the hyphen, and the amalgamation of these splendid representatives of practically all nations into genuine American citizens, infused with American ideals and pushed on by true American ambitions, is one of the great problems that the war has brought in a most striking manner to our attention.

Not that these representatives of many nations shall in any way lose their sense of sympathy for the nations of their birth, in times of either peace or of distress, although they have found it either advisable or greatly to their own personal advantage and welfare to leave the lands of their birth and to establish their homes here.

The fact that in the vast majority of cases they find themselves better off here, and choose to remain and assume the responsibilities of citizenship in the Western Republic, involves a responsibility that some, if not indeed many, heretofore have apparently too lightly considered. There must be a more supreme sense of allegiance, and a continually growing sense of responsibility to the nation, that, guided by their own independent judgment and animated by their own free wills, they have chosen as their home.

There is a difference between sympathy and allegiance; and unless a man has found conditions intolerable in the land of his birth, and this is the reason for his seeking a home in another land more to his liking and to his advantage, we cannot expect him to be devoid of sympathy for the land of his birth, especially in times of stress or of great need. We can expect him, however, and we have a right to demand his absolute allegiance to the land of his adoption. And if he cannot give this, then we should see to it that he return to his former home. If he is capable of clear thinking and right feeling, he also must realize the fundamental truth of this fact.

There are public schools in America where as many as nineteen languages are spoken in a single room. Our public schools, so eagerly sought by the children of parents of foreign birth, in their intense eagerness for an education, that is offered freely and without cost to all, can and must be made greater instruments in converting what must in time become a great menace to our institutions, and even to the very life of the nation itself, into a real and genuine American citizenship. Our best educators, in addition to our clearest thinking citizens, are realizing as never before, that our public-school system chiefly, among our educational institutions, must be made a great melting-pot through which this process of amalgamation must be carried on.

We are also realizing clearly now that, as a nation, we have been entirely too lax in connection with our immigration privileges, regulations and restrictions. We have been admitting foreigners to our shores in such enormous quantities each year that we have not been able at all adequately to assimilate them, nor have we used at all a sufficiently wise discrimination in the admission of desirables or undesirables.

We have received, or we have allowed to be dumped upon our shores, great numbers of the latter whom we should know would inevitably become dependents, as well as great numbers of criminals. The result has been that they have been costing certain localities millions of dollars every year. But entirely aside from the latter, the last two or three years have brought home to us as never before the fact that those who come to our shores must come with the avowed and the settled purpose of becoming real American citizens, giving full and absolute allegiance to the institutions, the laws, the government of the land of their adoption.

If any other government is not able so to manage as to make it more desirable for its subjects to remain in the land of their birth, rather than to seek homes in the land with institutions more to their liking, or with advantages more conducive to their welfare, that government then should not expect to retain, even in the slightest degree, the allegiance of such former subjects. A hyphenated citizenship may become as dangerous to a republic as a cancer is in the human body. A country with over a hundred hyphens cannot fulfil its highest destiny.

We, as a nation, have been rudely shaken from our long dream of almost inevitable national security. We have been brought finally, and although as a nation we have no desire for conquest or empire, and no desire for military glory, and therefore no need of any great army or navy for offensive purposes, we have been brought finally to realize that we do, nevertheless, stand in need of a national strengthening of our arm of defense. A land of a hundred million people, where one could travel many times for a sixmonth and never see the sign of a soldier, is brought, though reluctantly, to face a new state of affairs; but one, nevertheless, that must be faced—calmly faced and wisely acted upon. And while it is true that as a nation we have always had the tradition of non-militarism, it is not true that we have had the tradition of military or of naval impotence or weakness.

Preparedness, therefore, has assumed a position of tremendous importance, in individual thought, in public discussion, and almost universally in the columns of the public press. One of the most vital questions among us then is, not so much as to how we shall prepare, but how shall we prepare adequately for defensive purposes, in case of any emergency arising, without being thrown too far along the road of militarism, and without an inordinate preparation that has been the scourge and the bane of many old-world countries for so many years, and that quite as much as anything has been provocative of the horrible conflict that has literally been devastating so many European countries.

It is clearly apparent that the best thought in America today calls for an adequate preparation for purposes of defense, and calls for a recognition of facts as they are. It also clearly sees the danger of certain types of mind and certain interests combining to carry the matter much farther than is at all called for. The question is—How shall we then strike that happy balance that is the secret of all successful living in the lives of either individuals or in the lives of nations?

All clear-seeing people realize that, as things are in the world today, there is a certain amount of preparedness that is necessary for influence and for insurance. As within the nation a police force is necessary for the enforcement of law, for the preservation of law and order, although it is not at all necessary that every second or third man be a policeman, so in the council of nations the individual nation must have a certain element of force that it can fall back upon if all other available agencies fail. In diplomacy the strong nations win out, the weaker lose out. Military and naval power, unless carried to a ridiculous excess does not, therefore, lie idle, even when not in actual use.

Our power and influence as a nation will certainly not be in proportion to our weakness. Although righteousness exalteth a nation, it is nevertheless true that righteousness alone will not protect a nation—while other nations are fully armed. National weakness does not make for peace.

Righteousness, combined with a spirit of forbearance, combined with a keen desire to give justice as well as to demand justice, if combined with the power to strike powerfully and sustainedly in defense of justice, and in defense of national integrity, is what protects a nation, and this it is that in the long run exalteth a nation— while things are as they are.

While conditions have therefore brought prominently to the forefront in America the matter of military training and military service—an adequate military preparation for purposes of defense, for full and adequate defense, the best thought of the nation is almost a unit in the belief that, for us as a nation, an immense standing army is unnecessary as well as inadvisable.

No amount of military preparation that is not combined definitely and completely with an enhanced citizenship, and therefore with an advance in real democracy, is at all worthy of consideration on the part of the American people, or indeed on the part of the people of any nation. Pre-eminently is this true in this day and age.

Observing this principle we could then, while a certain degree of universal training under some system similar to the Swiss or Australian system is being carried on, and to serve our immediate needs, have an army of even a quarter of a million men without danger of militarism and without heavy financial burdens, and without subverting our American ideas—providing it is an industrial arm. There are great engineering projects that could be carried on, thereby developing many of our now latent resources; there is an immense amount of road-building that could be projected in many parts of, if not throughout the entire country; there are great irrigation projects that could be carried on in the far West and Southwest, reclaiming millions upon millions of acres of what are now unproductive desert lands; all these could be carried on and made even to pay, keeping busy a large number of men for half a dozen years to come.

This army of this number of men could be recruited, trained to an adequate degree of military service, and at the same time could be engaged in profitable employment on these much-needed works. They could then be paid an adequate wage, ample to support a family, or ample to lay up savings if without family. Such men leaving the army service, would then have a degree of training and skill whereby they would be able to get positions or employment, all more remunerative than the bulk of them, perhaps, would ever be able to get without such training and experience.

An army of this number of trained men, somewhat equally divided between the Atlantic and the Pacific seaboards, the bulk of them engaged in regular constructive work, work that needs to be done and that, therefore, could be profitably done, and ready to be called into service at a moment's notice, would constitute a tremendous insurance against any aggression from without, and would also give a tremendous sense of security for half a dozen years at least. This number could then be reduced, for by that time several million young men from eighteen years up would be partially trained and in first-class physical shape to be summoned to service should the emergency arise.

In addition to the vast amount of good roads building, whose cost could be borne in equal proportions by nation, state and county—a most important factor in connection with military necessity as well as a great economic factor in the successful development and advancement of any community—the millions of acres of now arid lands in the West, awaiting only water to make them among the most valuable and productive in all the world, could be used as a great solution of our immigration problem.

Up to the year when the war began, there came to our shores upwards of one million immigrants every twelve months, seeking work, and most of them homes in this country. The great bulk of them got no farther than our cities, increasing congestion, already in many cases acute, and many of them becoming in time, from one cause or another, dependents, the annual cost of their maintenance aggregating many millions every year.

With these vast acres ready for them large numbers could, under a wise system of distribution, be sent on to the great West and Southwest, and more easily and directly now since the Panama Canal is open for navigation. Allotments of these lands could be assigned them that they could in time become owners of, through a wisely established system of payments. Many of them would thereby be living lives similar to those they lived in their own countries, and for which their training and experience there have abundantly fitted them. They would thus become a far more valuable type of citizens—landowners—than they could ever possibly become otherwise, and especially through our present unorganized hit-or-miss system. They would in time also add annually hundreds of millions of productive work to the wealth of the country.

The very wise system that was inaugurated some time ago in connection with the Coast Defense arm of our army is, under the wise direction of our present Secretary of War, to be extended to all branches of the service. For some time in the Coast Artillery Service the enlisted man under competent instruction has had the privilege of becoming a skilled machinist or a skilled electrician. Now the system is to be extended through all branches of the military service, and many additional trades are to be added to the curricula of the trade schools of the army. The young man can, therefore, make his own selection and become a trained artisan at the same time that he serves his time in the army, with all expenses for such training, as well as maintenance, borne by the Government. He can thereby leave the service fully equipped for profitable employment.

This will have the tendency of calling a better class of young men into the service; it will also do away with the well-founded criticism that army life and its idleness, or partly-enforced idleness, unfits a man for useful industrial service after he quits the army. If this same system is extended through the navy, as it can be, both army and navy service will meet the American requirement—that neither military nor naval service take great numbers of men from productive employment, to be in turn supported by other workers. Instead of so much dead timber, they are all the time producing while in active service, and are being trained to be highly efficient as producers, when they leave the service.

Under this system the Federal Government can build its own ordnance works and its own munition factories and become its own maker of whatever may be required in all lines of output. We will then be able to escape the perverse influence of gain on the part of large munition industries, and the danger that comes from that portion of a military party whose motives are actuated by personal gain.

If the occasion arises, or if we permit the occasion to arise, Kruppism in America will become as dangerous and as sinister in its influences and its proportions, as it became in Germany.

Another great service that the war has done us, is by way of bringing home to us the lesson that has been so prominently brought to the front in connection with the other nations at war, namely, the necessity of the speedy and thorough mobilization of all lines of industries and business; for the thoroughness and the efficiency with which this can be done may mean success that otherwise would result in failure and disaster. We are now awake to the tremendous importance of this.

It is at last becoming clearly understood among the peoples and the nations of the world that, as a nation, we have no desire for conquest, for territory, for empire—we have no purposes of aggression; we have quite enough to do to develop our resources and our as yet great undeveloped areas.

A few months before the war broke, I had conversations with the heads or with the representatives of leading publishing houses in several European countries. It was at a time when our Mexican situation was beginning to be very acute. I remember at that time especially, the conversation with the head of one of the largest publishing houses in Italy, in Milan. I could see plainly his skepticism when, in reply to his questions, I endeavored to persuade him that as a nation we had no motives of conquest or of aggression in Mexico, that we were interested solely in the restoration of a representative and stable government there. And since that time, I am glad to say that our acts as a nation have all been along the line of persuading him, and also many other like-minded ones in many countries abroad, of the truth of this assertion. By this general course we have been gaining the confidence and have been cementing the friendship of practically every South American republic, our immediate neighbors on the southern continent. This has been a source of increasing economic power with us, and an element of greatly added strength, and also a tremendous energy working all the time for the preservation of peace.

One can say most confidently, even though recognizing our many grave faults as a nation, that our course along this line has been such, especially of late years, as to inspire confidence on the part of all the fair-minded nations of the world.

Our theory of the state, the theory of democracy, is not that the state is above all, and that the individual and his welfare are as nothing when compared to it, but rather that the state is the agency through which the highest welfare of all its subjects is to be evolved, expressed, maintained. No other theory to my mind, is at all compatible with the intelligence of any free-thinking people.

Otherwise, there is always the danger and also the likelihood, while human nature is as it is, for some ruler, some clique, or factions so to concentrate power into their own hands, that for their own ambitions, for aggrandizement, or for false or short-sighted and half-baked ideas of additions to their country, it is dragged into periodic wars with other nations.

Nor do we share in the belief that the state is above morality, but rather that identically the same moral ideals, precepts and obligations that bind individuals must be held sacred by the state, otherwise it becomes a pirate among nations, and it will inevitably in time be hunted down and destroyed as such, however great its apparent power. Nor do we as a nation share in the belief that war is necessary and indeed good for a nation, to inspire and to preserve its manly qualities, its virility, and therefore its power. Were this the only way that this could be brought about, it might be well and good; but the price to be paid is a price that is too enormous and too frightful, and the results are too uncertain. We believe that these same ideals can be inculcated, that these same energies can be used along useful, conserving, constructive lines, rather than along lines of destruction.

A nation may have the most colossal and perfect military system in the world, and still may suffer defeat in any given while, because of those unseen things that pertain to the soul of another people, whereby powers and forces are engendered and materialized that make defeat for them impossible; and in the matter of big guns, it is well always to remember that no nation can build them so great that another nation may not build them still greater. National safety does not necessarily lie in that direction. Nor, on the other hand, along the lines of extreme pacifisms—surely not as long as things are as they are. The argument of the lamb has small deterrent effect upon the wolf—as long as the wolf is a wolf. And sometimes wolves hunt in packs. The most preeminent lesson of the Great War for us as a nation should be this—there should be constantly a degree of preparedness sufficient to hold until all the others, the various portions of the nation, thoroughly coordinated and ready, can be summoned into action. Thus are we prepared, thus are we safe, and there is no danger or fear of militarism.

In a democracy it should, without question, be a fundamental fact that hand in hand with equal rights there should go a sense of equal duty. A call for defense should have a universal response. So it is merely good common-sense, good judgment, if you please, for all the young men of the nation to have a training sufficient to enable them to respond effectively if the nation's safety calls them to its defense. It is no crime, however we may deprecate war, to be thus prepared.

For young men—and we must always remember that it is the young men who are called for this purpose—for young men to be called to the colors by the tens or the hundreds of thousands, unskilled and untrained, to be shot down, decimated by the thoroughly trained and skilled troops of another nation, or a combination of other nations, is indeed the crime. Never, moreover, was folly so great as that shown by him or by her who will not see. And to look at the matter without prejudice, we will realize that this is merely policing what we have. It is meeting force with adequate force, if it becomes necessary , so to meet it.

This is necessary until such time as we have in operation among nations a thoroughly established machinery whereby force will give place to reason, whereby common sense will be used in adjusting all differences between nations, as it is now used in adjusting differences between individuals.

Our period of isolation is over. We have become a world-nation. Equality of rights presupposes equality of duty. In our very souls we loathe militarism. Conquest and aggression are foreign to our spirit, and foreign to our thoughts and ambitions. But weakness will by no means assure us immunity from aggression from without. Universal military training up to a reasonable point, and the joint sense of responsibility of every man and every woman in the nation, and the right of the national government to expect and to demand that every man and woman stand ready to respond to the call to service, whatever form it may take—this is our armor.

All intelligent people know that the national government has always had the power to draft every male citizen fit for service into military service. It is not therefore a question of universal military service. The real and only question is whether these or great numbers of these go out illy prepared and equipped as sheep to the shambles perchance, or whether they go out trained and equipped to do a man's work—more adequately prepared to protect themselves as well as the integrity of the nation. It is not to be done for the love or the purpose of militarism; but recognizing the fact that militarism still persists, that with us it may not be triumphant should we at any time be forced to face it. There are certain facts that only to our peril as well as our moral degradation, we can be blind to. Said a noted historian but a few days ago:

"I loathe war and militarism. I have fought them for twenty years. But I am a historian, and I know that bullies thrive best in an atmosphere of meekness. As long as this military system lasts you must discourage the mailed fist by showing that you will meet it with something harder than a boxing glove. We do not think it good to admit into the code of the twentieth century that a great national bully may still with impunity squeeze the blood out of its small neighbors and seize their goods."

We need not fear militarism arising in America as long as the fundamental principles of democracy are preserved and continually extended, which can be done only through the feeling of the individual responsibility of every man and every woman to take a keen and constant interest in the matters of their own government—community, state, national, and now international. We must realize and ever more fully realize that in a government such as ours, the people are the government, and that when in it anything goes wrong, or wrongs and injustices are allowed to grow and hold sway, we are to blame.

Universal military training has not militarized Switzerland nor has it Australia. It is rather the very essence of democracy and the very antithesis of militarism.

"Let each son of Freedom bear
His portion of the burden. Should not each one do his share?
To sacrifice the splendid few—
The strong of heart, the brave, the true,
Who live—or die—as heroes do,
While cowards profit—is not fair!"

Many still recall that not a few well-meaning people at the close of the Civil War proclaimed that, with upwards of two million trained men behind him, General Grant would become a military dictator, and that this would be followed by the disappearance of democracy in the nation. But the mind, the temper, the traditions of our people are all a guarantee against militarism. The gospel, the hallucination of the shining armor, the will to power, has no attraction for us. We loathe it; nor do we fear its undermining and crushing our own liberties internally. Nevertheless, it is true that vigilance is always and always will be the price of liberty. There must be a constant education towards citizenship. There must be an alert democracy, so that any land and sea force is always the servant of the spirit; for only otherwise it can become its master—but otherwise it will become its master.

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Ralph Waldo Trine

  • Lived from September 6th, 1866 to February, 22nd 1958
  • Born in Mt. Morris, Illinois
  • Most popular book is In Tune With the Infinite
  • Was an early leader in the New Thought movement.

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