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with the mistakes of your commanders in causing






312 THE FOLLY OF NATIONS

some loss, will they not more than balance it in
strengthening morale ? ' '

"If you were amenable to instructions," he re-
plied.

"To military censorship, yes, but as experts
something may be left to our expert view. Other-
wise we should sacrifice professional ethics too
far even to gain the maximum of practical results
which you desire. The public might become sus-
picious that we were too well instructed and our
reports only another form of ex-parte official bul-
letins which they might even conclude were cover-
ing the mistakes of leadership. We could not be
quite as dignified and brief as the communiques. ' '

"It will require a nice dis crimination, " he said
a very nice discrimination as every surrender
by conscience to the war devil always requires.

In every war which I had seen after the cam-
paign in Greece, when correspondents had the
freedom of the field to go where they pleased, the
restrictions of censorship and the exactions of
control of movement had continued to increase.
More and more, perhaps, they were being used
as the personal perquisite of generals and states-
men in war time to screen their errors and promote
their individual ambitions. They were more
stupid and severe in the Balkan War of 1912 than
in the Eusso-Japanese War.

At the outset of the World War the staffs of



NATIONALISM 313

all armies decided that the press should not be
represented at the front. It was to be "fed out
of hand." In loyal and patriotic conformity it
accepted the mandate of the experts. But the new
power which had come into being stood for an
influence which could not be thus disregarded even
with its own consent. The British command, in
response to the warning sign from its old well
rooted democracy, took the lead in a departure
from the original plan which was eventually to be
followed by the acceptance of accredited corre-
spondents by all the armies and to more and more
freedom of the press at the front as the principal
medium for keeping the war pulse keyed to fever
pitch.

During the campaigns of 1915 and 1916, with
Robinson, Thomas, Gibbs, Philips and Eussell I
should address each as "Sir" now that they have
been knighted for their services we went about
the front, always accompanied by an officer, see-
ing actions and taking with commanders and sol-
diers. The censorial "Don'ts" became second
nature to this group who were telling the English
speaking world what the British army was doing.
The things which we did not write were often more
interesting than the things which we did write.
Many of them have appeared in Sir Philip Gibbs '
vivid "Now It Can Be Told."

Old-fashioned chivalry, long association with



314 THE FOLLY OF NATIONS

professional soldiers, as well as my ethics, may
have had their influence in my attitude, but I
would not be a mouthpiece for invented atroci-
ties, though they received the approval of eminent
scholars and publicists, and I would not be a
mouthpiece for hate or false witness against an
enemy.

My war to the bitter end was against the Prus-
sian officer type whom I later saw in his humilia-
tion of defeat as a victim of well deserved retrib-
utive justice. Against the German private sol-
dier himself, be he from farm, village or town,
who exemplified the courage, loyalty and obedi-
ence which we were instilling into our men, I had
no prejudice. He was a fellow-human being, a
man-child, as we all are men-children in war under
whatever flag we may fight. This did not mean
that he must not be fought to the death, but that
in proof of the ideals which we were defending
against him, we should fight him without preju-
dice. If I had been born in Hanover I should
have been on his side and under his illusion. I
could not blame him for his place of birth, as that
was not a matter of his choice.

Among the interesting things which one did not
report were the remarks which I heard from a
senior British staff officer and a junior French
staff officer after a joint Anglo-French general
attack which had failed.



NATIONALISM 315

"The Germans were magnificent in their re-
sistance and admirable in their tactical previ-
sion," said the Briton. "They are our kind of
people more than the French."

"A trained army, the Germans," said the
Frenchman. * ' Theirs and ours are really the only
trained armies. We are both Continental peoples.
We have more in common with them than we have
with the British."

Either was expressing nationalism's sense of
racial superiority in a form that the emotion of
the moment prompted. The truth was, so far as
one could tell, that the Germans had outwitted
both allies on that occasion.

One's own instinctively trained partisan sense,
as a sharer of the folly of nations for a common
cause, permitted him to write nothing that showed
the slightest rift in sentiment or opinion even be-
tween an individual Frenchman and Englishman.
What the public did read from French and Brit-
ish sources were further tributes to the impec-
cable tactics and martial and ethical character of
a brave ally and such disparagement of the
enemy's character as would excite popular ardor
to resist him with more and more men and ma-
terial.

4

We must win the war ; and war requires decep-
tion of self and others. My atomic self was in



316 THE FOLLY OF NATIONS

the vise with the millions of other atoms. I was
held to my part by my own illusion as others were
held to their parts by their illusions. My illusion
was that we were fighting a war to end war ; that
we were fighting for a new world. Others might
smile at my illusion as I smiled at theirs. They
might see me as a self -deceived pawn just as I
saw them as self-deceived pawns.

Though the dream which I nursed does not
come true, it justified for me as their illusions
justified for others the means to the end; it gave
me heart for my task in the period when I served
as censor after I was commissioned in our army.
Each of us must make that sacrifice which would
be the fullest contribution in his power to the
cause. I was to stand between the allied publics
and that little band of pioneers under Pershing
in the troublous days of 1917 when it was thought
that a confession of our weakness would be fatal.
The atom was offering his all as a stop-gap. If
my inclination ran toward cynicism I should have
material for irony without end at my command.

I had ceased to be a writer. I was in uniform.
I was no longer a spectator on the ' l outside, ' ' but
on the "inside" of things. All the allied suspi-
cions and jealousies came naked to the censor's
office to be clothed into brotherly love to walk
abroad. [_Ihere, in obedience to regulations, one
must suffer agony as he strangled the truth and



NATIONALISM 317

squirm with nausea as he allowed propaganda to
pass. One must keep up all the illusions that made
men fight; stifle all the information which would
interfere with the illusions.

Enlightening and enjoyable discrimination
about the qualities of an Englishman, a French-
man, an Italian, or an American as a human being
and a unit of a great race ceased. Publicly, an ally
had no faults. All his soldiers were undaunted
warriors of spotless character and all his women
saintly and beautiful; but the enemy's soldiers
were all barbarous fiends and his women slat-
ternly and unmoral. There was inter-allied lying
as well as anti-enemy lying. Lying became a fine
art. Their natural fitness for lying enabled some
men to achieve honors "in organizing victory in
the rear" while the one man who was not facing
a lie was the Allied soldier or German soldier who
fought a brave antagonist.

How the single minded forthright nobility of
the fighting men and of the women who were knit-
ting, sewing and scrubbing and urging their men
on to death contrasted with the banal mouthings
of the Greek Deputy type and of other types of
slacking intriguers and with the petty selfishness
of some leaders who saw the war as a source of
glory, promotion and profit and whom the regu-
lations of the censorship had to protect! I com-
mend all to the censor's office who would like to



318 THE FOLLY OF NATIONS

taste the distilled broth of the folly of nations.
It revealed humanity magnificent in sacrifice and
betrayed by its own emotions to self-destrnction.

I should not mention the incident of the censor-
ship service if it had not been for the first pris-
oner taken by the Americans, a German boy of
nineteen who was in the Landstiirm with the mid-
dle aged reservists because he was a physical
defective incapable of serving with men of his
years. The, sector, where our pioneer division
was to receive its first trench experience, was in-
active and lightly held by the enemy. Our men
had been drilled at a training camp for many
months. One of their exercises was thrusting the
bayonet into a stuffed bag which was supposed
to be a German. The thing was to thrust promptly
and thrust hard ; you must overcome all your na-
tural and civilized feeling against killing your own
kind. You must want to kill that imaginary Ger-
man and kill him instantly. He was pictured as
a diabolically savage trickster who gave no quar-
ter. The vise of war required that you must be
as ferocious as he was. If you did not kill him he
would kill you. So, kill him! Thrust in hate,
thrust in joy, thrust in vengeance, thrust for your
comrades' and civilizations sake!

That boy of nineteen was a mail carrier who
lost his way in his lines and wandered behind our
lines in the dark. His illusion was that, though






NATIONALISM 319



a weakling among his fellows, he might still be of
some use in saving German "kultur" from us
barbarians. When two of our soldiers saw him,
both fired at him. One bullet passed through his
forearm making a painful wound. He fell with
an outcry.

Here was a real German. All the drills in
thrusting at the stuffed bag called for a thrust
at him; and a stab in his abdomen after he had
yielded himself was the eventual cause of his
death. There was no second stab because instinc-
tive human mercy, due to generations of training
in peace time, checked the killing instinct that had
been developed at the training camp. Other sol-
diers came up and began cutting buttons off the
uniform of the bleeding captive for souvenirs.
Then officers and the fully recovered sense of
decency, bred in peace, intervened, and the boy
was treated with the utmost kindness and gentle-
ness. Free the two soldiers and the German of
their illusions and they might be friendly neigh-
bors. The two were no more brutal by nature
than other men, perhaps much less brutal than
the average man. We say that wars must come
because we cannot change human nature when we
have to brutalize modern human nature back to
primitive savagery in order that we shall have
sufficient brutality to be efficient soldiers.

The taking of our first prisoner was an im-



320 THE FOLLY OF NATIONS

portant bit of news. Our correspondents wanted
to describe the event in detail. Ethically, right
was on their side. The value of a free press is in
holding up the mirror to our excesses of passion
as well as our better moments. My own feeling
was to allow the ' ' story " to go in full; but I had
to consider the "nice discrimination " in profit
and loss on the ledger of slaughter!

What more telling propagandic item could the
German desire for inspiriting their own men to
fight to the death than a copied account from an
American newspaper showing how the wild west-
ern savages had bayoneted a weakling youth of
the Landstiirm and then submitted him to gross
indignities in defiance of the canons of civilized
warfare while America was boasting that she was
fighting to save civilization! So I elided the ap-
parent features of the correspondents ' accounts.
And what right had I to say what should be pub-
lished? What right was there in any form of
censorship?

A few days later the Germans made a night raid
upon our trenches under cover of a box barrage.
After it was over the correspondents were told
that the Germans had wantonly cut the throats of
our men who had already expired. Experience
warned me that the Germans were too hurried on
such occasions to pause to mutilate dead men in
the dark in a dug-out even though it suited their



NATIONALISM 321

inclinations. At close quarters the trench knife
was a supple weapon and the rifle a clumsy one.
Slashing the carotid artery or jugular vein which
causes instant death, was no more barbarous to
my mind than eviscerating a man by the burst of
a high explosive shell or making him cough to
death from poison gas. I called up the divisional
operations officer who confirmed my hypothesis
from personal observation with an emphasis re-
flecting not only his professional fondness for
accuracy but his sense of professional chivalry.
So I did not permit the reports to say that the
Germans had mutilated our dead when official eye
witnesses said that they had received no other
wounds except those inflicted by the knife.

At the time that I made this decision I had on
my desk a memorandum by a high staff officer in
which he said that "Hate was a most important
factor in promoting morale. " Personally, he
enormously admired the Germans. He thought
that they had ' t the greatest army in all history. ' '
I think he even admired them for their "hymn of
hate. ' J From his point of view I was soft-minded
and culpable, especially as at that tune the United
States had more than two million men in training
in our camps. I had prevented their reading a
piece of news which would " blood " them against
the enemy and make their thrusts against the
dummy bag more savage. It had seemed to me



322 THE FOLLY OF NATIONS

that if we were really making an idealistic war to
end war the inculcation of hate to fester in the
minds of future generations was a poor way of
attaining our object.

What mattered my compunctions! What mat-
tered one lie more or less when all our lies were
a means to a noble end? I had allowed my per-
sonal illusion to influence me in performing my
official duty which was to encourage the war
spirit in every one else through strengthening the
illusion which most appealed to him.

The thing was to teach the public to rejoice in
the brutality of our own soldiers, applaud them
for not taking prisoners and incite them to all the
bad practices which we hailed as atrocious in the
enemy and as justifying our own excesses. We
brutalized the public at the same time that we
brutalized our soldiers, while we protested that
we were not making war on the German people
whom we would deliver from bondage into better
ways. If the Germans exhibited chivalry or kind-
ness, if we found their doctors in German thor-
oughness of detail gently caring for our wounded
when a counter charge swept over lost ground,
these facts must be censored out lest they weaken
the war lust necessary to keep our determination
steeled to our task. Logically, we should have
rejoiced over these individual exceptions to Ger-
man depravity as encouraging the Germans to



NATIONALISM 323

mend their ways and as proof of our faith in a
new Germany once her people were freed from
the blight of Kaiserism.

The German censors were taking the same atti-
tude on their side of the line as we on ours. They
were dealing in the brutality of a blockade that
was starving their babies as an incentive for their
soldiers to fight to the death ; not in the brutality
of submarines stabbing passenger or hospital
ships or planes bombing women and children in
Paris and London.

"What a lot you will have to tell when the war
is over!" friends used to say when I was in the
censorship. They made the same remark after
the excruciating misery of the assignment was
over and I was back at the front and still ' ' on the
inside of things. "

5

The era of " exposure " which followed the war
is over. I desired no part in it unless to expose
myself as one more anthropoid subject to the
waste emotions which make sport of the construc-
tive and lovable human qualities. I have no errors
of tactics to reveal; I would disparage no gen-
erals by telling the " truth " about them; I would
bring to the market place no backstairs gossip of
times of stress when strong spirits were breasting
the waves and weak spirits were clinging to life
buoys.



324 THE FOLLY OF NATIONS

There were no errors except those of human-
ity's folly when we were all in the vise and sharing
our necessity of the means to the end. There
were weak and tiresome generals and capable and
interesting and great and high-minded generals,
and generals whose fussy self-importance was
amusing. I knew the inwardness of the preten-
sions of some of the weak; the chance of age and
circumstance that gave them command ; the hazard
of fortunes beyond their control which brought
them promotion or demotion. I saw some of the
successful take on the manners and trappings
of greatness which propaganda prescribed for
generating the war spirit.

We had to give up the argument of the chapel
and the form for the argument of the cockpit;
the tedium of curing the crippled and insane for
the exciting diversions of making cripples and
insane. In order to defeat the Kaiser we created
Kaisers of our own and set up a god of force on
our altars. Happily, our generals were relatively in-
offensive generals. They did not make and un-
make nations for their own pleasure. No com-
mander-in-chief in the field was also head of the
state. So there were no Napoleons, Caesars, Alex-
anders, Charlemagnes or Coeur de Lions.

In this people's struggle I must confess that I
saw all the generals as part of the picture. We
must have a few generals as we must have a few fif-



NATIONALISM 325

teen-inch guns, as well as many field guns and still
more numerous machine guns and still more num-
erous rifles. It was incidental to the future of
humanity what names the generals bore or whether
they were short or tall. To indulge in personali-
ties about them is beside the mark; to over glorify
them is only to encourage the cult of heroism in
order to evercise a spell over future generations.

Not one of them was indispensable. There were
scores, hundreds, of equally able leaders, the pro-
duct of the age in which education and opportunity
had opened wide the doors to ambition; and all
were insignificant in a sense that leaders had never
been before in relation to the tremendous masses
of troops whose intelligence was so superior to
that of the troops of past wars and whose merci-
less attrition was to decide the day. Choose your
hour when the enemy is weakening to mount your
charger to ride to immortal fame and victory,
which in this war, as in no other, was won by the
people and the high intelligence that sent McAn-
drew's engines

"Through all thy seas of all thy world slambangin' home
again."

The woes of Pecksniffian diarists, or the exposi-
tions of officers who want " their side" to be told
we may leave all such to history are useful
only as they will reveal the truths that will scarify



326 THE FOLLY OF NATIONS

the lies in our hearts which may bring on further
wars. In previous wars all the population may
have done some lying, but the major portion of
the lying was done by the few. In the World War
we all had to do our bit. Our nationalism turned
the vast masses, which preventive medicine had
enabled to survive, into primitive tribesmen, be-
lieving and exaggerating every lie which we were
told about the tribesmen over the mountain range,
when our great epoch had made us akin in com-
mon interest and self-preservation as surely as
the first railroad tunnel through the range was a
thrust into the darkness that brought the light of
communications between the tribes who realized
that their languages and race were really the same
which were one day to unite them in the bonds of
nationalism.

We called the old witches tales, the old plagues,
the old leeches, the old sorceries out of the past as
the necessary servants of our purpose. Should
the conversation with that able and attractive
Chief of Intelligence, the incident of the German
prisoner or of the throat cutting seem far fetched,
this may be only testimony to how our minds be-
came distorted when we had to yield the freedom
of the printed word which was the foundation of
democratic government and progress. Month
after month I watched the deterioration of minds
and character under the censorship and our re-



NATIONALISM 327

version to the days of the lickspittle herald. Under
military rule I saw the increase of intrigue, of
lackeyism, hanging on a superior's nod, of devi-
ous instead of direct means to an end, of -the
weakening of individual intelligence and the ca-
pacity for independent and straight thinking.
These effects the victor shared with the van-
quished. Nationalism was compelled to turn a
destroying hand upon the very elements which
had created and fostered its values.



VIII

THE ANSWEE
1

LET us grant that the World War was inevitable.
There is only one way to escape its repetition.
We must not allow our minds and emotions to be
lured into another international situation which
will make another such a cataclysm inevitable.
Guided by the lessons of the World War, we must
free ourselves from the false sentiments and tra-
ditions which belong to another stage of human
evolution and face the problems of today in frank
self-analysis and with the simple courage of the
soldier in the trenches.

Having hung the chapter on Nationalism as a
lamp to illumine their pages and cast its light
into the future I shall, in this chapter, consider
the old values of war and the causes of war, chap-
ters four and five, with reference to present con-
ditions. First, the old values :

Physical. Never was the youth of the leading
nations of the world so fit physically as at the
outset of the World War after forty years of
peace. This was true in Britain, in the British
dominions and in the United States as well as in
the conscript nations. Not merely a chosen few

3*8



THE ANSWER 329

but practically all the males of fighting age were
under arms. They lived in the clammy and loathe-
some trenches instead of open camps, fought in
battles lasting weeks instead of a few hours and
endured physical strains in every way more exact-
ing than in previous wars. It was peace not war
that gave them the stamina equal to this travail.
They went into the war strong and came out of
the war impoverished in vitality if not crippled
for life.

Picture a battalion of lusty men in the prime of
life, representing the investment of maternal
nursing in their childhood and of paternal earn-
ings and sacrifices, the product of the doctors
oversight of municipal sanitation of schoolroom
calisthenics and of the fresh air of the playground,
going into the trenches! Picture the survivors
of that same battalion, who have not been buried
in the muck of destruction or borne back in the
procession of wounded, as they returned from the
trenches, ashen faced, staggering and exhausted
to a quiet spot behind the lines away from the
sound of shells, where they might be inspirited
and fattened to face the ordeal again and have
the strength to bear its labors ! In this contrast
you have the contrast of the physical value of war
and of peace. It was a contrast that we might
not mention while the war was in progress lest it
should discourage the people at home. I saw it



330 THE FOLLY OF NATIONS

hundreds of times, and to some purpose, if I may
burn the truths that the censorship excluded into
the minds of readers who were too young or too
old to be at the front.

Every man who served in long tours of the
trenches on stabilized fronts or in any one of the
long grinding battles drew on his reserve store
of physical energy to an extent which he will more
and more realize as he grows older. Did those
fine physical types of free and upstanding men
from Canada and Australasia require war to Im-
prove their physiques f The permanently disabled
youth, looking forward to a deliberated and
cramped existence, whose numbers in the first war
"of every man a soldier " terrify us with their
appeal and their burden, represent only a small
portion of the whole of physical vitality lost to
each combatant nation. Whether Frenchmen,
Americans, Britons, Italians or Germans or Aus-
trians I saw twenty men demobolized as sound
who had been physically weakened by the war to


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Online LibraryFrederick PalmerThe folly of nations → online text (page 18 of 23)