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Argumentum ad Humanitatem
MERICAN intervention in the War of the Nations A was most timely, and most untimely. That is a
paradox that is in both its statements entirely true and pertinent.
It was timely and something more, so far as the needs of the Allies were concerned, for they were approaching perilously near to the limit of their strength and their endur
The greatness of their need and the imminence of their peril were not generally understood, or known. It was not the policy of governments to publish all the facts of their extremities and distresses to the world. But though unpublished, the grim facts were there. For the third time a psychological moment had come, and the cry “Help, or we perish!” was heard.
The first such occasion was at the very beginning, when Belgium with almost godlike heroism and sacrifice withstood for a little space the German onset, holding out in sheer desperation for a few days until France could mobilize her forces. Then Belgium broke, and the burden of the day fell upon France.
The second was when, after the immortal Marne, the rallied armies of France “against great odds bare up the war” until England could be aroused from her non-militarist lethargy and could be brought to the aid of France. Not Leonidas at Thermopylae was more resolute than France when she said of the Hunnish hordes, “They shall not pass.
The third came when the allied hosts of France and Eng
land were threatened with exhaustion, not of valor but of supplies; and all they could do was to hold on grimly until we could come to their relief. They could fight. But they could not continue fighting without supplies, and those supplies must largely come from America, and with such coming the submarine pirates of Germany were ominously interfering.
In spite of all that the Allies could do, the submarines were destroying their commerce far faster than they could replace it by building or by purchase. The losses amounted to hundreds of thousands of tons in a single week. At that rate even the gigantic mercantile marine of England would in a not long time be so depleted as to be quite insufficient for the carrying trade; and when thus supplies failed, the Allies would have to succumb. That was the condition with which the Allies were confronted at the beginning of April, 1917.
The question has been asked, why the Allies did not use submarines, too, to counteract the German use of them. The answer is simple. There was nothing for them to be used against. Germany had no commercial marine at sea, and her fighting navy was fenced and screened in inland waters. She had no vessels at sea except the submarines, and they were practically immune against the attacks of others of the same kind. Submarines cannot efficiently fight other submarines. There was thus nothing to do but to endure their losses as best they could, in earnest hope that America would come to their relief and rescue before those losses became so great as to be fatal.
France had been performing miracles of heroism for two years and a half. But she could not keep on forever. Her population was little more than half that of her chief adversary, and her store of manhood on which she could draw
was correspondingly less. By the spring of 1917 she was feeling the strain and the drain almost to desperation. She was in need of our help, even more than we had been in need of hers in the dark days of the Revolution.
Italy was practically at a standstill. For months her armies had made no advance, so that it was possible to withdraw many Teutonic troops from that front for service in Northern France.
Russia, after a long period of inactivity, had plunged into an anti-dynastic revolution. From one point of view, that was a great gain for the Allies, for it checked the German propaganda and meddling which had during much of the war thus far been costly and at times disastrous to the Russian arms. Also, the example of the Russian democracy expelling the imperial dynasty and establishing a popular government had some effect upon the German proletariat and incited talk and agitation for radical reforms and even of a revolution in that country. On the other hand, it for the time greatly weakened the Russian military aggressive, and left the Russian armies for a time so nearly a negligible a quantity that the Germans felt safe in transferring hundreds of thousands of troops from the eastern to the western frontier.
Great Britain was at the height of her power on land, and was maintaining her power at sea in all respects excepting against the elusive submarines. But she was of all the belligerents most dependent upon lands across the sea for the supplies which were essential not only to efficiency in the field but also to life itself. Already the pinch of restricted food supplies was felt, reserves
were much depleted, and the nation felt that it was living practically from hand to mouth. The stoppage of supplies, or even the considerable reduction of them, would be disastrous.