The United States Enters the War
January, 1917, had come, and the war had been going on for two years and a half. When it first broke out, it was announced in big headlines in the newspapers, and some of us took down atlases to make sure just where Serbia was, but we did not expect the United States to be seriously affected by a little fighting in a remote corner of Europe. When England and France took up arms, the trouble began to seem rather nearer home; but still we were on the other side of the Atlantic, we had followed Jefferson's advice and avoided European entanglements, and there seemed no reason why we should have anything to do with this one. Therefore we had issued promptly a proclamation of neutrality.
Of course Americans, as well as people of other nations, had read German books declaring German aims; but we had never taken them seriously. Perhaps one reason was that with our own great country, "the blessed land of room enough," and our long lines of seacoast, we could hardly understand the feelings of a rapidly increasing people who felt themselves shut into too narrow boundaries. However that may be, there was certainly one thing which we had not suspected, and this was that German spies were scattered throughout our land. We found that the German Government was paying men to place bombs on ships sailing from the United States, to burn our factories, to bring about strikes, and to wreck railroads. These men were also attempting to use the United States as a base from which to outfit steamers to supply German raiders. They were making efforts to induce the Hindoos in this country to arouse those of their race in India to rebel against the rule of England, and they were trying to excite the people of India, Mexico, Haiti, and Cuba to hatred of the United States. They planned to involve Japan in their plots. Japan is our friend, and if we treat her fairly, there is no reason to suppose that she will ever be otherwise; but Germany schemed to unite Japan and Mexico against us, their reward to be land in our Southwest. Germans living in this country were advised from "home" to oppose military training and arming, so that the United States might be the more easily overcome in case of war. All this was before there was any break between this country and Germany.
These things were done partly in revenge for our sales of ammunition, and partly that we might be kept too busy at home to join in the war in Europe if the time should come when we discovered the wisdom of so doing. The German Embassy was the head and front of this work. It even issued passports by forging the name of the United States, a particularly dishonorable act, as a foreign minister is regarded as the guest of the country to which he is sent, and is accorded special privileges and courtesies. We learned at last that we must meet bribery, treachery, and crime.
Before the beginning of the war we had felt as kindly toward Germany as toward any other country, but as the months passed, our feelings underwent a change. War is horrible under all conditions, but civilized nations have tried to lessen its terrors by international laws and agreements forbidding certain methods of warfare. Among the forbidden acts are the destruction of private property; the bombardment of undefended towns, and the bombardment of any towns without warning; injury to churches, art galleries, hospitals, and hospital ships; the use of anything causing unnecessary suffering, such as poison on weapons or in wells, poison gas, or liquid fire. It is forbidden to impose upon any community fines or other penalties for deeds of individuals for which the community is not responsible. All these regulations, and many others, Germany had violated again and again. She had treated her prisoners with cruelty; she had spread germs of disease; in Belgium, Poland, and elsewhere she had torn many thousands from their families and driven them away into slavery; she had recognized no law but her own will.
In great free America we could hardly believe that such crimes as these could be committed anywhere in the world. When it was proved not only that the charges were true, but that the crimes had been committed, not by lawless soldiers, but under strict orders from headquarters, it was impossible not to take sides. What had happened in our own country increased our indignation. Still we waited, until at last Germany's methods of carrying on submarine warfare became unendurable. These were briefly:—
Early in 1915 Germany marked off a large area of the high seas in which she declared she would sink all enemy ships without warning. Three months later she sank the Lusitania. One year after this, she promised to sink no more vessels without warning. Eight months later, February 1, 1917, she declared that she would sink without warning every vessel that she met. This was nothing more nor less than piracy, and it aroused the indignation of the world.
Our Government had learned before this that the German Ambassador, Count Von Bernstorff, was at the head of the plots against the United States, and two days after the declaration of unrestricted warfare, he was given his passports. This was not declaring war, but it was a threat of war if Germany did not mend her ways. Germany continued in the same course, and two months after the departure of Count Von Bernstorff, President Wilson stood before Congress, called in special session. He summed up the injuries which Germany had inflicted upon the United States and the efforts of the Government to keep the peace. Then he said: "With a profound sense of the solemn and even tragical character of the step I am taking and of the grave responsibility which it involves, but in unhesitating obedience to what I deem my constitutional duty, I advise that the Congress declare the recent course of the Imperial German Government to be in fact nothing less than war against the Government and people of the United States." Congress voted, "Resolved, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared."
We are in this war for the reason which the President stated in just eight words, "The world must be made safe for democracy." The word democracy comes from two Greek words meaning people and power, and a democratic government is one in which the people are the source of power. The United States is a democracy. We choose men to represent us, Representatives, Senators, and President; but if even the President does not do for the country what the majority think is wise and honorable, we have the right to try him, and if he is proved guilty, to put him out of his office. France, like the United States, is a republic. England is not a republic, but it is a democracy. It has a king, to be sure, but politically he is hardly more than a figurehead. The Prime Minister and his party rule; but if they propose an important measure and Parliament—chosen by the people—refuses to pass it, they understand this as a broad hint that they are not representing the will of the people; they resign and another election is held. The Government of Italy is much like that of England. Italy has a king and a legislature of two houses. Its Cabinet, like the English Prime Minister and his party, resigns if Parliament refuses to pass any important measure which it has presented. Such is a democratic government, "Of the people, by the people, and for the people," as Lincoln so well expressed it.
The Government of Germany is an autocracy. This word comes from two Greek words meaning self and power, that is, the ruler himself and not the people is the source of power. The German Empire was formed, as has been said before, by the union of a number of kingdoms, duchies, free cities, etc. The States of the United States united on equal terms, no State having more privileges or rights than another. The number of Representatives which each State sends to Congress depends, as is fair and just, upon the number of the State's inhabitants; but every State, whether large or small, sends two Senators. The German union of States is quite different from ours. When it was formed, some States refused to join unless they could have special privileges. Bavaria, for instance, pays no taxes to the Empire on beer and domestic liquors. Of all these States, Prussia was by far the strongest, and when her king became also German Emperor, she was able to secure whatever special privileges she wanted.
The Government of Germany consists of the Kaiser, the Chancellor, and two houses. The members of one of these, the Bundesrat, are appointed by the rulers of the twenty-five States, each one having a fixed number of votes. The other, the Reichstag, represents the people, and its members are chosen by the people's vote. At the first glance, this seems much like the Government of England, with King, Prime Minister, and the two houses of Parliament; but there is a great difference, as will be seen later.
The Kaiser is of course at the head of the Government. Under him is the Chancellor, whom he appoints or puts out of office as he chooses. The Chancellor is President of the Bundesrat, and he has also a seat in the Reichstag. In England, as has just been said, if the Prime Minister proposes an important bill and Parliament refuses to make it a law, the Prime Minister resigns. In Germany, if the Chancellor proposes an important bill, and the Reichstag refuses to make it a law, the Reichstag may be dissolved and a new election held. This may be done again and again until a Reichstag has been formed that will vote as the Chancellor—that is, the Kaiser—wishes, and the Chancellor remains in power until the Kaiser desires to make a change. The Reichstag, then, has almost no power, and is practically, as it has often been called, only a debating club.
The Bundesrat represents the States as States; but the number of representatives varies with the different States. There are in all 61 members. Of these Prussia has 17, while 17 of the States have only one apiece. Alsace-Lorraine has three votes, but the Kaiser "instructs" how they shall be cast. The delegates from each State vote as a unit and as they have been bidden by the Prince of their State to vote. Now, the Kaiser is also King of Prussia, so the twenty delegates are subject to his will. The meetings of the Bundesrat are held in secret. If the Reichstag passes a law, it is not valid unless the Bundesrat agrees to it. As the Kaiser controls one third of the votes of the Bundesrat, it is an easy matter for the Chancellor to secure for him enough more votes to make a majority and pass whatever measures he may please. The Kaiser, then, controls both the Reichstag and the Bundesrat. He also controls the army and the navy. To make offensive war, he must ask the assent of the Bundesrat—not difficult to obtain, as has been seen—but if, in his own opinion, the war is defensive, all he needs to do is to say, "Let there be war," and the vast war machine of the Empire is set in motion. The present war the Kaiser averred to be defensive, and he did not officially notify the Bundesrat until three days after it had been declared.
As Prussia is the leading State of Germany, it is of interest to know that Prussian voters are divided into three classes according to their property. Four per cent of the wealthy folk of the land count in voting for as much as eighty-two per cent of the working-people, and the vote of one man of wealth or of noble birth may be equal to the votes of ten thousand working-men. This is why a "junker," that is, son of a noble house which has always been devoted to military service, holds so much power. Bismarck was a junker. The Government of the United States, of England, of France, and of Italy, is a government of the people by themselves—a democracy. The Government of Germany is a government of the people by one person—an autocracy.
Lincoln said, "This country cannot endure half slave and half free." Neither can the nations endure half democratic and half autocratic. As long as there is a man in the world who has the power to bring war upon a country, simply by saying the word, the world is not safe. That is why we are fighting. Our boys do not cross the ocean to enter "European entanglements," but to keep autocracy from our own land. This is our war; we fight to defend our own country and ourselves just as certainly as if German troops had landed on our shores. "Paris in three weeks, London in three months, New York in three years," was a common saying among German officers. From the beginning of the war France and England and little Belgium have been fighting our battles. The Atlantic is wide, but if England had not been our friend and had not protected us by keeping the German fleet shut up in the North Sea, who can doubt that Germany would have strained every nerve in the effort to bombard our coast towns and turn parts at least of our country into a second Belgium?