I have not seen the letter addressed by President Wilson to the American people calling upon them to preserve toward this war the mental attitude of neutrals. But I have seen the war. And I feel sure had President Wilson seen my war he would not have written his letter.
This is not a war against Germans, as we know Germans in America, where they are among our sanest, most industrious, and most responsible fellow countrymen. It is a war, as Winston Churchill has pointed out, against the military aristocracy of Germany, men who are six hundred years behind the times; who, to preserve their class against democracy, have perverted to the uses of warfare, to the destruction of life, every invention of modern times. These men are military mad. To our ideal of representative government their own idea is as far opposed as is martial law to the free speech of our town meetings.
One returning from the war is astonished to find how little of the true horror of it crosses the ocean. That this is so is due partly to the strict censorship that suppresses the details of the war, and partly to the fact that the mind is not accustomed to consider misery on a scale so gigantic. The loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, the wrecking of cities, and the laying waste of half of Europe cannot be brought home to people who learn of it only through newspapers and moving pictures and by sticking pins in a map. Were they nearer to it, near enough to see the women and children fleeing from the shells and to smell the dead on the battle-fields, there would be no talk of neutrality.
Such lack of understanding our remoteness from the actual seat of war explains. But on the part of many Americans one finds another attitude of mind which is more difficult to explain. It is the cupidity that in the misfortunes of others sees only a chance for profit. In an offer made to its readers a prominent American magazine best expresses this attitude. It promises prizes for the essays on "What the war means to me."
To the American women Miss Ida M. Tar-bell writes: "This is her time to learn what her own country's industries can do, and to rally with all her influence to their support, urging them to make the things she wants, and pledging them her allegiance."
This appeal is used in a periodical with a circulation of over a million, as an advertisement for silk hose. I do not agree with Miss Tarbell that this is the time to rally to the support of home industries. I do not agree with the advertiser that when in Belgium several million women and children are homeless, starving, and naked that that is the time to buy his silk hose. To urge that charity begins at home is to repeat one of the most selfish axioms ever uttered, and in this war to urge civilized, thinking people to remain neutral is equally selfish.
Were the conflict in Europe a fair fight, the duty of every American would be to keep on the side-lines and preserve an open mind. But it is not a fair fight. To devastate a country you have sworn to protect, to drop bombs upon unfortified cities, to lay sunken mines, to levy blackmail by threatening hostages with death, to destroy cathedrals is not to fight fair.
That is the way Germany is fighting. She is defying the rules of war and the rules of humanity. And if public opinion is to help in preventing further outrages, and in hastening this unspeakable conflict to an end, it should be directed against the one who offends. If we are convinced that one opponent is fighting honestly and that his adversary is striking below the belt, then for us to maintain a neutral attitude of mind is unworthy and the attitude of a coward.
When a mad dog runs amuck in a village it is the duty of every farmer to get his gun and destroy it, not to lock himself indoors and toward the dog and the men who face him preserve a neutral mind.
RICHARD HARDING DAVIS.
NEW YORK, Dec. 1st, 1914.