from 'the War Illustrated', 20lh October, 1917
'America's War-Machine in the Making'
By Hamilton Fyfe
Expressly written for The War Illustrated by this famous correspondent
now in the United States

America Goes to War

pages from 'the War Illustrated'

 

WHEN I came to the United States I was glad to think that I should have the opportunity to see how a great nation takes up arms, not in sudden anger, not for conquest of territory, neither at the bidding of a despot nor upon the persuasion of a demagogue, but in order to defend its principles and ideals from being trampled upon. What I have seen has gone beyond my expectations. The intervention of the United States has brought us face to face with a new feature in history. No parallel to it can be adduced. The world has never seen war undertaken in quite this same spirit.

The truth is that nations are growing towards the same stage of development which individual men reached when they ceased to fight because they enjoyed it, and because they had no other means of fettling their disputes. When that time .came, men gave up fighting except as a method of safeguarding themselves against would-be disturbers of the peace.

Individual men no longer duel or delight in bloodshed, but their instinct teaches them to employ force against enemies of the community. Policemen have clubs and use them when necessary. Breakers of the law must be restrained or apprehended by any means whatsoever. No one would hesitate to use a rifle or a knife against a wild animal that threatened attack. Nor was any feeling of protest aroused when, some years ago, houses in London and in Paris which had been turned into fortresses by dangerous anarchists — I am thinking of Sidney Street and Fort Chabrol — were surrounded by soldiers and the occupants fired at as often as they showed themselves.

An Unpleasant Necessity

No man worthy of the name would fail to help a policeman in arresting a criminal, even at the risk of injury. But in such acts there is no enjoyment.

We can imagine the members of some primitive tribe sallying forth to chase and kill or capture, and perhaps eat, tribesmen who had offended against the rules and regulations in force. We can fancy their joy in the hunt and their satisfaction when their fighting instinct was brought into play. Among individuals in our day such joy and such satisfaction are so rare that we can almost say they have ceased to influence mankind.

All the time I have been on various fronts I have never heard any soldier say lie liked killing. Nor shall we find henceforth, I believe, nations enjoying war. There will be no more open declarations that war is healthy and desirable. The change in the character of warfare is partly responsible for this ; partly also the change in the motivation of war. Wars are now undertaken by nations that have reached a high stage of civilised development, not with exultation, but as a duty, as an unpleasant necessity, which their instinct tells them they must accept if their instincts and ideals are to prevail over the criminal efforts of less civilised communities.

It was instinct which drove the American people into this war. They felt, if I may borrow a phrase from Mr. Lane, Secretary of the Interior, that they must fight "to justify our right to live as we have lived, not as someone else wishes us to live." They kept out as long as their self-respect permitted. It took Germany a long time to make them begin. It will take a long time to make them stop.

They are not "enthusiastic," but they are determined. They do not parade the streets singing patriotic songs. They do not throw flowers to the soldiers who march through their cities, though they do throw them more practical proofs of their affection, such as cigarettes, chewing-gum, chocolate, and fruit. There are no "frills" to their loyalty. They are only just learning to take off their hats to the national flag.

Stern Determination

But there is a spirit in the nation which is in value far above that of the spirit which finds its vent in shouting and singing. I felt this a very few days after my arrival, when I saw the earliest enrolled units of the National Guard marching to Central Park in New York and going through their drill and physical exercises there. I was more than ever impressed by it as I watched the stirring march of the New York City National Guard men down Fifth Avenue on the day they went off to their training camps.

The crowd which lined the pavements for five miles did not make a continuous noise. Only in places did its cheering swell to a roar. Nothing wonderful in-that to those who remember how silently London crowds used to stand while soldiers passed through the streets in the early days of the new British armies. We knew that there were pride and gratitude and stubborn resolution in the hearts of the people, and so there are here.

One could feel that the sight of these soldier boys, who but yesterday were at work in their offices, shops, and factories was strange and even disconcerting to their mothers and fathers. One knew that there must be many poor little wives in the throng of spectators who could not altogether keep out of their hearts rebellion against being parted from their husbands. But in the eyes of that crowd, in the resolute set of stubborn jaws and the stern drawing together of brows, were evident the resentment of which these soldiers were the outward and visible sign, the determination to carry what they had undertaken through to the end.

The Battle of Humanity

It is a new thing in the history of the world, this gathering of a vast army, this enrolment of the youth of a nation essentially peaceful, not under the influence of some passing excitement, some carefully-engineered thrill, but in a stern, almost solemn mood to chastise an offender against the common interest and the common right of all peoples. There is an inspiration in it far beyond that of any war activity in the past. These armies are to fight the Battle of Humanity, While they defend the right of Americans to live as they please, and not as someone else pleases, they are upholding that right also for the rest of the civilised world. They are even helping the Germans toward the acquirement of it, and we can be sure that some day they will acknowledge their liberation from Kaiser-ism to have been due in large part to the United States.

These men of the new armies know what they are going to fight for. They are not filled with hatred of the German people, though the approval given by Germany to the savageries practised by U boats, Zeppelins, and bomb-dropping Gothas has aroused very strong feelings of disgust and contempt. They do not want to take anything from the German people. They want to give them something.

The great desire of Americans, taking them in the mass, is to see Germany a Republic. In this desire a great many of the German-Americans share, even some of those who are most pro- German. The youth and flower of the United States goes forth to war with the determination to free the world from, the Hohenzollerns, just as the British soldiers of the Napoleonic Wars set before themselves the one aim of getting rid of "Boney."

The American people are convinced that the time has come when it is necessary to have done with monarchies, which, under pretence of ruling by divine appointment, give rein to the most criminal ambitions and keep the world in a state of perpetual unrest.

Men of the U.S. Armies

There is no "militarism" here ; so far as I can judge there, is never likely to be any. Yet there is a very natural and proper pride in the fine appearance of the men who are going to fight. Khaki has become very much more a feature of the streets during the last few weeks. Tall, compactly-built officers, almost without exception clean-shaven, with an air of concentrated energy, are to be seen everywhere. Those who are not in uniform in public places are beginning to feel a trifle embarrassed, anxious to explain why they are not. The governor of a State, who is a friend of mine, said a few days ago that, dining in a restaurant of a popular hotel, he found himself in a company of whom more than half were soldiers. "I felt that I should like to wear a placard," he said, "telling people that I am the governor of ------, so that they could see I am doing my bit and not shirking." All the better kind of young men are finding their places in the new armies. Events are following the same course here as they did in Britain in the year 1914.

Everywhere one sees, too, the private soldiers of the mighty war-machine which this country is methodically preparing. They also are strikingly tall. Lithe and lean and lissom, with clean-cut features and smiling eyes, looking very trim in their shirts, breeches, and canvas gaiters (tunics are dispensed with during the hot weather), and already very different in bearing from the young men they were not long ago, fitter, more elastic, their faces healthily tanned.

If the United States had in the five and a half months which have elapsed since it declared war done nothing .more than raise its fighting strength from about one hundred thousand to a million and a half, if its exertions had been limited to getting the men and providing them with barracks and training-grounds, the record would have been creditable. But this is only one of the many aspects of American war activity.

see also The Growth of the American Army / Talking with American Combat Troops in France

 

 

from 'the War Illustrated', 6th October, 1917
How America Is Making War
by Hamilton Fyfe
Expressly written for "The War Illustrated" by this Famous Correspondent, now in the United States

 

America Goes to War

pages from 'the War Illustrated'

 

I HAVE seen Britain begin war, France begin war, Rumania begin war. I saw Russia in the early stages of the world-upheaval, I have seen Italy since the Italians made up their minds they were in for a long struggle, and not for the short campaign which was in the thoughts of most of them when they began. Now I have added to my memories that of the United States beginning war, and when in some future day I look back upon these memories and see all that has happened in its true perspective, I am not sure that I shall not then set down my American experiences as the most interesting of all.

Britain went to war in a hurry ; France with a sigh of apprehension. Russia sang marching songs with a fierce lilt in them, and wondered what it was all about. Rumania light-heartedly fancied that occupying Transylvania would be no harder than the taking of Jericho after its walls had been trumpeted down. I found Americans neither up in the air nor down in the depths. They neither sighed nor sang. They had no illusions about the war being quickly finished off, nor were they in doubt as to the reasons for their entry into it. They were not hurrying. They were treating war as a matter of business, and applying the ordinary rules of business to it.

The other allied nations began war like amateurs. The Americans are making way like business men.

An Unpleasant Necessity

War to this American people was no high adventure, no crusade, no rescue expedition. It was a business proposition. Just as much of a necessity, an unpleasant necessity, as clearing a farm of rattle-snakes or a ranch country of horse-thieves. The American people wanted to live after their own fashion, not interfering, not being interfered with. Germany would not leave them alone. "This is our world," she said in effect. " You must do as we tell you, or we shall hurt you." Then the patience of the United States was exhausted. "Very well, if you will have it so, we will fight you," said the United States. And without hurry, at a steady marching pace, making preparation for a vast effort and for a long time ahead, the United States came into the war.

The other allied nations began like adventurers. The Americans have begun like business men.

Nothing businesslike about the uniforms of the French soldiers at the beginning. Recollect the red trousers, which made the wearer a conspicuous target at long range. Lying out on a Somme battlefield and watching them, I argued with a French friend on this topic in the first weeks of the war. "We shall never give them up," he cried; "they are our tradition, our. inspiration, our panache." Of course, they gave them up.

Amateurish the refusal of the British War Office to speed up the provision of machine-guns, when it was clear to everyone who saw anything of the fighting that this was going to be a machine-gun war. Worse and worse became the unbusinesslike conduct of Britain's war when the men sitting at desks in London missed the most important aspect of the change from open- field fighting to trench fighting, and persisted in believing that earthworks could be destroyed by shrapnel — when from the front came the demand in urgent terms for high explosive.

No Nerveless Fumbling

An unpreparedness, all lack of foresight, all scratching together of inadequate resources in the moment of peril, these be the marks of the amateur. These defects I was obliged to admit in Britain. I saw them paralysing the efforts of France and Russia. The French Army mobilised in the wrong place, and the Germany Army entered France through Belgium, as all sound military opinion had held that it would. The Russians divided their responsibility for keeping their troops supplied with arms and munitions into compartments so completely separate from each other that Headquarters did not know what the War Office was doing, and the War Office did not know what was the capacity of the munition factories, and the War Minister kow-towed to a Grand Duke who was in charge of the Artillery Department, and the Grand Duke did nothing to spare that unhappy country the opening series of disasters which-led directly to its present wretched state. All that was amateurish. So far as I can judge, there will be none of this nerveless fumbling in the United States.

In four months this country has raised a very large army, sent abroad many regiments which were partly trained already, begun to train the men who have never done any soldiering. For this purpose vast camps have been set up. The railways have had to study how to move nearly three-quarters of a million men. Most striking of all to me, when I recollect that not even Lloyd George dared to lay hands upon the liquor trade in Britain, is the forbidding of drinking in public by men or officers in uniform. At the camps all sellers of liquor within five miles are ordered to clear off. The point I want to make is that whatever the Government believe to be necessary they enforce. Other allied Governments are afraid of this party, or of that interest. The Government of the United States does not seem to be afraid of anything or anybody. It is not thinking about politics. It is thinking about winning the war.

The others made way like politicians. The Americans are making war like business men.

"Slowness? I Should Smile!"

The first act of the President after this country had declared war was to call for the assistance of its best-known and most capable men ,of business. Numbers of them are giving their services — have been giving them for some time past. How long did it take us in Britain to see that it was essential to mobilise talent ? Mr. Asquith did not want to introduce outsiders among. the old gang of politicians. Lord Kitchener tried to do everything himself, would hardly let officers of ability and experience do anything to straighten the muddle at the War Office let alone business men, whom he distrusted and disliked.

I have heard many grumbles about the slowness of Washington to seek out and set in order the measures needful for the success of the American arms and the security of the people who stay at home. Slowness ? I should smile ! Do these grumblers think that the measures in question are so simple, so clearly indicated, so easy to enforce ? It is not difficult to put up a tall building. Architects and engineers can calculate accurately the strains and stresses, the quantity of material required, the rate at which the work can be pushed on. You can speed up the manufacture of motor-cars. You can, if need be, lay a railway in a hurry. In all these activities there is exact knowledge to go by. But who has calculated the strains of war — who can point to the bases of any science of warfare ?

All that the United States Government can do is to guess at what will be needed, at the time the war will last, at the methods which will best aid in winning it. These matters cannot be known. The Germans thought the war would be settled under water, by the U boats. Some of us in .the allied camp think it may be settled in the air. But nobody knows.

Wisdom — and Speed

Under these conditions it seems to me that this country has acted with both wisdom and speed in doing so much as it has done within the short space of four months. It is spending already over 500,000 a day and, besides that, lending every twenty-four hours 5,000,000 to the Allies to keep them going. It has allotted 130,000,000 for the building of aeroplanes. It is going to build destroyers for the destruction of submarines at a cost of 70,000,000. It will spend during the next twelve months 400,000,000 upon new ships for commerce, and for carrying to France all that the American troops will need there.

One day I learn from the newspapers that a hundred thousand cylinders are being cast for aircraft at the rate of one thousand a day, and that this rate can be increased at will to five or even ten thousand. Another day I notice that six million flannel shirts have been ordered for delivery during the early part of the winter. Not a morning slips by without some announcement of this kind.

I saw the steady advance of hunger in Russia and in Rumania, simply for lack of foresight. I saw Britain hesitate and fumble over food control even when famine had begun to threaten her poor. Here the saving of food has been made an urgent duty already, after four months of war. Coal is being "conserved." Prices of wheat and other necessaries are being fixed. Measures have been taken in many directions to save the nation from discomfort and suffering, as well as to organise victory by force of arms.

Yes, the other Allies made war like amateurs. The Americans are making war like business men.

see also The Growth of the American Army / Talking with American Combat Troops in France

 

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