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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.
Indeed, not since the German drive at Paris was checked at the Marne had there been so ominous an outlook for the allied powers, or had the possibility of German victory been so great. It was in such a time of trial and almost of desperation that America projected herself into the war, with the immediate contribution of vast sums of money, with the promise of ships and troops a little later—at the middle of May American destroyers were cooperating with the British navy in the North Sea and American soldiers were on their way to France and with the incalculable moral encouragement that such adherence afforded. It was timely, indeed, from the European point of view, and was thus recognized and gratefully acclaimed by the Allies. As for Germany, she was obviously much perturbed; she realized how heavy a weight had been thrown into the scale against her. But she assumed to regard it lightly, and even refused to recognize the United States as a belligerent against her.
The declaration of war was, on the other hand, most untimely for the United States itself. That was because of our condition of gross unreadiness. For years, and especially ever since the outbreak of the war, thoughtful and far-seeing men had been preaching the gospel of preparedness, but to little avail. The government itself set its face like a flint against it. “We have not been unmindful of our defenses," it said. “We are not unready. If the President called for a million men at daybreak, they would all be in the ranks by sunset."
With such siren songs America had lulled herself to sleep while all the world around her was in flames. The government made no preparations for war, nor even any plans for preparation. The result was that after the declaration of war there was deplorable and costly delay in preparing our military establishment. It was not until after the middle of May, nearly six weeks after the declaration, that Congress agreed upon a law for the increase of the army by conscription. But even then the Secretary of War announced that while the conscription would be held on June 5, there would be no summoning of the men to the colors before about the first of September, because of lack of supplies for their equipment. That is to say, after nearly three years' warning we were so unready for war that nearly five months must elapse after our declaration of war before we could so much as send recruits to training camps to begin their preparation for service on the battle front. The event was as untimely for us as it was timely for our allies.,
Nevertheless, it was inevitable; and it was well that it was precipitated upon us even in all our unreadiness. That is because without it we should never have taken a single effective step toward getting ready. It needed the rude shock of war to rouse the government and the people to a realization of their necessities, to a realization of the fact that “It's war we're in, not politics.” In fact, even the declaration of war was scarcely sufficient to bring that realization home to all. It was said, and truly, that England did not fully realize that she was at war with Germany so long as the fighting was confined to France and Flanders. It was not until German cruisers bombarded unfortified residence villages along the coast, and German Zeppelins dropped incendiary and murderous bombs upon defenseless towns and cities, that the nation was fully roused. No such shock as that was given to America, and the popular recognition of the state of war was consequently less prompt and less keen.
But the realization grew, and became sufficiently clear to the majority of the people, and then preparation for the
strife was pressed with expedition and with inexorable resolution. Even late in May, 1917, the danger was not wholly past. The most judicious and informed men perceived that there was still a possibility that Germany might win the war with her piratical submarines before America would be able to make her power felt. A year before Mr. Lloyd George was lamenting that in so many things England had been “Too late; always too late!” The balance quivered on the turning of a hair to decide whether our entry into the war was too late or was just in time.
It was evident that to make it just in time and not too late, the American nation must send men and ships to Europe as quickly as possible; that it must organize and operate a gigantic system of ocean transportation of supplies; and that it must so conserve its food supplies as to be able to feed its allies as well as itself for a year or two years to come. These were the conditions on which haply we could hope to avoid having the war transferred from Flanders and Picardy to our own Atlantic littoral.
It was the psychological moment for America to intervene in the war. It was the psychological moment for every American to intervene with all his individual, personal might, to help the nation and its allies to win a victory commensurate in magnitude with the magnitude of the war itself; a victory for humanity as great as is the menace to humanity in the arrogant challenge of the Huns.