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THE HOME FRONT
On May 18, 1917, President Wilson issued a proclamation in which are to be found the following significant sentences:
In the sense in which we have been wont to think of armies there are no armies in this struggle, there are entire nations armed. Thus, the men who remain to till the soil and man the factories are no less a part of the army that is in France than the men beneath the battle flags. It must be so with us. It is not an army that we must shape and train for war-it is a Nation. To this end our people must draw close in one compact front against a common foe. But this cannot be if each man pursues a private purpose. All must pursue one purpose. The Nation needs all men, but it needs each man, not in the field that will most pleasure him, but in the endeavor that will best serve the common good. Thus, though a sharpshooter pleases to operate a triphammer for the forging of great guns, and an expert machinist desires to march with the flag, the Nation is being served only when the sharpshooter marches and the machinist remains at his levers. The whole Nation must be a team, in which each man shall play the part for which he is best fitted.
If President Wilson deserves severe criticism for his failure to endorse adequate plans of preparation for war while his country was at peace, he should be given due credit for his appreciation that the home front must be organized if the fighting front was to be victorious. He perceived clearly that it was necessary to carry into the industrial life of the nation that centralizing process which characterized his military policy. That the nation at home was made to feel itself part of the fighting forces and cooperated enthusiastically and effectively in the organization of the national resources was not the least of the triumphs of the United States. Such organization demanded great sacrifice, not merely of luxuries or comforts, but of settled habits, which are difficult to break. It must necessarily be of an emergency character, for the United States possessed no bureaucratic system like that which obtains on the continent of Europe for the centralization of trade, manufactures, food production, and the thousand activities that form part of economic life. But the event proved that both the spirit and the brains of the American people were equal to the crisis.
The problem of coördinating the national industries for the supply of the army was complicated by the military decentralization described in the preceding chapter, which President Wilson was not able to remedy before the final months of the war. The army did not form or state its requirements as one body but through five supply bureaus, which acted independently and in competition with each other. Bids for materials from the different bureaus conflicted with each other, with those of the navy, and of the Allies. Not merely was it essential that such demands should be coördinated, but that some central committee should be able to say how large was the total supply of any sort of materials, how soon they could be produced, and to prevent the waste of such materials in unessential production. If the army was decentralized, American industry as a whole was in a state of complete chaos, so far as any central organization was concerned. On the side of business every firm in every line of production was competing in the manufacture of essential and unessential articles, in transportation, and in bidding for and holding the necessary labor. Mr. Wilson set himself the task of evolving order out of this chaos.
The President, as in the purely military problem
where he utilized the General Staff as his instrument, prepared to adapt existing machinery, rather than to create a completely new organization. For a time he seems to have believed that his Cabinet might serve the function. But it was ill-adapted to handle the sort of problems that must be solved. It was composed of men chosen largely for political reasons, and despite much public complaint it had not been strengthened after Wilson's reëlection. Franklin K. Lane, the Secretary of the Interior, was generally recognized as a man of excellent business judgment, willing to listen to experts, and capable of coöperating effectively with the economic leaders of the country. His influence with the President, however, seemed to be overshadowed by that of Newton D. Baker and William G. McAdoo, Secretaries of War and of the Treasury, who had inspired the distrust of most business men. McAdoo in particular alienated financial circles because of his apparent suspicion of banking interest, and both, by their appeals to laboring men, laid themselves open to the charge of demagogic tactics. Robert Lansing, the Secretary of State, had won recognition as an expert international lawyer of long experience, but he could not be expected to exercise great influence, inasmuch as the President obviously intended to remain his own foreign secretary. Albert S. Burleson, PostmasterGeneral, was a politician, expert in the minor tactics of party, whose conduct of the postal and telegraphic systems was destined to bring a storm of protest upon the entire Administration. Thomas W. Gregory, the Attorney-General, had gained entrance into the Cabinet by means of a railroad suit which had roused the ire of the transportation interests. The other members were, at that time, little known or spoken of. Wilson spent much time and effort in defending his Cabinet members from attacks, and yet it was believed that he rarely appealed to them for advice in the formulation of policies. Thus the Cabinet as a whole lacked the very qualities essential to a successful organizing committee: ability to secure the coöperation and respect of the industrial leaders of the country.
Titular functions of an organizing character, nevertheless, had been conferred upon six members of the Cabinet in August, 1916, through the creation of a “Council of National Defense"; they were charged with the “coördination of industries and resources for the national security and welfare."
The actual labor of coördination, however, was to be exercised by an advisory commission of seven,