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The United States and the War   By: (1866-1957)

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It is dangerous to comment too freely on the psychology of foreign nations. I knew a man who held the opinion that Americans cared for only three things in the world comfort, money, and safety objects which notoriously inspire aversion in the normal Briton. And he explained this view at some length to two young Americans, one of whom had been working fourteen hours a day at the relief of distress in Belgium, while the other, with a sad disregard for truth and the feelings of his parents, had passed himself off as a Canadian in order to fight in the British Army.

I know another man, an American man of letters, who went off at his own expense at the time of the German advance in Poland to help the Polish refugees. He worked for months on end among people starving and dying of typhus, often going without food himself and entirely abstaining from some of the most ordinary comforts of life. When I last met him he had seen a thousand people dead around him at one time. He was then on his way back to continue his work, and I felt some nervousness on hearing he was to pass through England. I have an inward feeling that someone at this moment is explaining to him that Americans ask no questions about the war except how much money they can make out of it, and the one thing you can be sure of about a Yank is that he will be too proud to fight.

This particular man will very likely not retaliate. He will smile sadly and search his conscience, and reflect sympathetically that people who are suffering cannot help being irritable. But some millions of his fellow countrymen will answer for him, and they have rather a pretty wit when they set about answering. A placard over a certain large cinema show in New York once put the point neatly: ENGLISHMEN! YOUR KING AND COUNTRY WANT YOU. WE DON'T.

The beauty of that statement is that it finishes the matter and leaves nothing to argue about. But if you are unwise enough to wish to argue, you will find ample material. Think of all the things, to begin with, that are said against England by Englishmen. Remember all the things that your most Radical friends have said in the past against the Tories and Imperialists, and add it to all that the Tories used to say about Lloyd George; double it by all that the U.D.C. on the one hand and Mr. Maxse and the Morning Post on the other are saying about everyone who does not worship in their own particular tabernacles; sum them all together, and put in front of them the words: "Honest Englishmen themselves confess !" The effect will be quite surprising. It would be no wonder if the simple minded American should feel some prejudice against a nation whose leaders are all in the pay of Germany and whose working classes spend their lives in a constant debauch; a nation which makes up for its inefficiency in the field by riotous levity at home, by ferocious persecution of conscience and free speech, and by the extreme bloodthirstiness of its ultimate intentions towards the enemy. The wonder is that he feels it so little; that some sane instinct generally helps him to know the grosser kind of lie when he sees it, and some profound consciousness of ultimate brotherhood between the two great English speaking peoples is so much stronger than all the recurrent incidents of superficial friction.

The main cause of friction is, without doubt, that in the greatest crisis of our history we expected more from America than she was disposed to give... Continue reading book >>

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