ABOUT a year ago in the city of New York there was a distinguished company representing France, Great Britain, and America. Among those on that occasion were Marshal Joifre and Mr. Viviani from France, and Mr. Balfour from Great Britain. Mr. Joseph Choate, than whom there has been no more honored representative of our own people, was speaking. Whether he was speaking of the American peopie or for the American people would, I presume, be a matter of conjecture. But in the course of his address he cried out with vehemence and reverence— "For God’s sake, hurry up."

Many times I have asked myself as to the reason prompting these words. Let us think for a moment of what would have been likely to happen if America had not entered the conflict at the time she did. What would have happened if that mighty militaristic power of Germany had been able to master Great Britain and France and Italy, as she seems to have mastered Russia? Inevitably Germany, flushed with pride, and feeling that all her beliefs had been confirmed, and all her diplomacies ratified in heaven, would have tried to occupy Canada and Mexico, and to control the nations of South America. And who can doubt that having occupied the lands to the north of us, and to the south of us, and having her peculiar theories of government confirmed, as she would have interpreted, by the will of Almighty God; who can doubt, I say, that in a very brief time the hordes of Germany coming from the north and from the south would have overrun our land! So that it was not merely a question as to whether we should stand wholly aloof or enter the conflict. Necessity was laid upon us to enter the conflict. The only choice was this: to stand beside our allies, as they now are, upon the soil of France, or, postponing the event, to accept conflict here upon the soil of America.

So I accept Mr. Choate’s word not as the word of a dreamer, not as the word of one easily swayed by impulse or easily moved from the bearing of a very deliberate judgment. Mr. Choate felt that the time was opportune, considering the safety of our land. He was interested that government of the people, by the people, for the people should not perish from the earth. He was concerned that what had been built up through the past generations by the constructive force of our civilization should not be lost. He was interested that what had been gained by our civilization, either in this constructive force or in the force that appeared at the time as destructive, should still be preserved to us and to our children, and continue a part of the assets and possessions of the civilized world. Safety prompted such a word as this. That great American felt that the hour was so significant, that the considerations were so compelling as to admit of no further delay in America’s assumption of responsibility and duty.

Safety, however, is not the only consideration; there is also the consideration of honor. Suppose that Germany had not sunk the Lusitania. Suppose that none of our ships flying our flags and bearing our citizens had gone down at sea. Suppose that there had been no such indignity offered to our representatives as was offered to Mr. Gerard and the other members of the embassy in Germany. Suppose that there had been no breach of propriety by the ambassador of Germany at Washington. Now we perfectly well know that there was breach after breach of propriety. We know that while Germany was still appearing to be at peace with America, and while the representatives of the German empire in Washington were still assuming to maintain a friendly attitude toward the authorities of the United States, there was constant intrigue and machination, and there was the constant effort to excite or stimulate hostility among our neighbors. We did not know the story quite so well a year ago as we know it now. But suppose there had been no attempt to misinterpret history in the interest of Prussianism. Suppose that it had been true that there had been no deliberate attempt upon the part of the pro-German propaganda in this country to belie and vitiate our citizenship. Suppose that Germany had really been playing the national game fairly with us, what then?

You read the story of what happened thousands of years ago, and the school boys who read it, the school girls who read it, if they are keen of mind, take sides with the representative powers, and penetrate into the motives that have dominated men in the great epochs of human history, and align themselves with the forces that, as it appears to them, stand for righteousness, and align themselves against the forces that appear to represent unrighteousness.

Mr. Choate said "For God’s sake, hurry up." Why? Because altogether apart from that consideration of safety there was the consideration of the nation’s honor. And honor has a larger value than peace, and honor has a distinctly greater value than the treasures of mine, and of field and of state. You can take away the gold and silver of a nation, and you may leave the nation just as great a nation as before. You may batter down the cities of a nation and the nation may be just as great a nation as it was before. But if you rob the nation of its honor, it is no longer a great nation. By no pretense and by no artifice of intellectual jugglery is it possible to make that nation great.

Hurry up! Hurry up! Here is a great nation that has dominated its allies, that has used the events in Serbia as a reason for the projection of a war upon humanity. That is not my word, it is the word of one of the great Berlin dailies. When Austria dictated the terms to Serbia one of the German dailies made in effect this declaration. I cannot assume to quote the words, absolutely, but this was the statement in substance: "That such conditions had never been imposed by one nation upon another nation in human history, and the conditions imposed by Austria were so outrageous that they could only be interpreted as an attempt to project war." That is the utterance of one of the great German dailies. Now that great daily did not lodge responsibility where you and I believe responsibility lies, and where many of the public men of Germany declare responsibility did lie. Austria would have been ready, if left to herself, to dictate more rational conditions for the settlement of this matter with Serbia, and the incident would have been closed long ago and would have passed absolutely out of the thinking of mankind. But Germany did not want it so, and Germany would not have it so, and it was not the utterance of Austria, but it was the utterance of Germany that finally determined the unwillingness of both Austria and Germany to even delay consideration and determination of the matter. It was Germany that finally demanded an immediate concession to conditions that no nation with honor could possibly accept. That was well known. Germany was moving against humanity. Germany was invading civilization. German autocracy was seeking to drive its dagger into the heart of the world’s democracy.

I have talked with men a good many times since the war began, and occasionally I have heard such an expression to the effect that it was an unfortunate thing that America declared war on Germany. I want you to remember that America did not declare war on Germany, but America recognized that a condition of war already existed. The sea is a great highway of the nations, and all the years, whether nations are great or small, they have a right to the passage of that highway. The ships of America were neutral ships. They had the right to move absolutely unmolested over that great highway. When dictation came as to when and how the ships of America should move and the course they should take it was an insult to the sovereignty of our nation. But that is not the reason we took up arms. It was because Germany and Austria had denied the rights of our common humanity and because militaristic power had assumed to outrage and violate all the rights that are inherent in sovereign cities and in every place throughout the world. Germany comes with her great guns thundering there at the gates of Belgium. While still at peace with western Europe she ran the lines of her railroad with the deliberate purpose of invading Belgium soil when the right moment for her advance upon French territory should have come.

And when the hour came the agent of the German empire speaking in the Reichstag said that they had dealt with their treaty in respect to Belgium as with a scrap of paper. They had violated the solemn compact that had been entered into. He, standing in his place in Berlin, said that Germany had committed a wrong, but he did not need to tell us that. We were quite sensitive to that wrong the moment that it was committed. And when Germany assumed to exercise its militaristic power for the violation of Belgian neutrality in order that in passing over Belgian soil she might invade France immediately, and a bit later invade England, she was deliberately trampling upon the rights of civilization.

Therefore, when Germany invaded Belgium there was immediately that appeal to the United States that comes by the very gospel; comes by the very whisper of the divine voice in every chivalrous soul. It was the appeal to the strong to rise up when one was oppressed. It was the appeal to the strong to come immediately and stand beside those that were ruthlessly assaulted on the highway of the centuries. That was the attitude of Joseph H. Choate, and that is the attitude of America.

No man is able to enter into the thought of any other man. It is sometimes a difficult task to interpret your own thoughts and it becomes an impossibility when the thoughts are those of another man. Some have wondered why we did not sooner cast in our lot with the opponents of Germany. There was this advantage at least in delay. When President Wilson, acting in his executive capacity and sustained by the legislative department of our government, formally recognized that a condition of war already existed, the nation was united as it could not have been at any earlier time. When we consider the first year of America’s participation in the war, it is perfectly marvelous what has been accomplished. Take, for example, such an incident as the Young Men’s Christian Association asking during the year for thirty-five or forty millions, and having placed in its coffer an amount of from sixty to seventy-five millions of dollars. Think what the Red Cross asked and received in its drives. Think of the subscription to the Liberty Loans. Remember that this nation has been thinking in terms of peace rather than terms of war; in terms of industry, rather than in terms of war loans. None the less all the askings have been surpassed and we have uncounted billions for the next call.

But this is not the greatest thing. You can lend your money; you can give your money with a smile, and you can make your loan with a smile on your face, but out of the homes of the nation there have gone across the seas hundreds of thousands of our sons, and brothers, and lovers, and husbands, all "somewhere in France." The events of this year make it in truth a year of grace in our history—a year in which America has climbed to the level of a great new obligation and has chosen deliberately to enter into the kingdom of Service and Sacrifice. There were long days and weeks and months when France and Great Britain were down beside the seas scanning the horizon to discern, if possible, the coming over the crest of the wave of the ship with our flag flying at the peak. And there were long months, long, long months when she watched and watched in vain. But at length, the ship came over the horizon’s edge and the flag was fluttering at the top, and as the men who had been on board marched through the streets of London one of the Englishmen who saw them through the crowd said that they looked to him like the "Salvation Army." It was a very happy expression just at that hour. And when they entered into Paris, marching up under that Arch of Triumph along the Champs Elysées, France, poor, sad, weary France, looked, and the eyes of France brimmed with tears, and the breast of France throbbed with a tumult of emotion that could find expression only in tears.

And in stricken Belgium, where the people are poorest, where most suffering has been endured, barefooted, half-naked, robbed of everything of which it was possible to rob them, there was dropped from one of the aeroplanes the statement of the fact that America was "over there." Then those barefooted people, half naked and more than half starved, drew their belts tighter and said, "We can endure two years longer now that America is with us in this fight."

Chapter IV
Chapter II
Back to Legacy

© 2001, by Lynn Waterman