Nations of Europe and the Great War - Charles Morris

All Europe Plunged into War


At the opening of the final week of July, 1914, the whole world—with the exception of Mexico, in which the smouldering embers of the revolution still burned—was in a state of profound peace. The clattering hammers and whirling wheels of industry were everywhere to be heard; great ships furrowed the ocean waves, deep-laden with the world's products and carrying thousands of travelers bent on business or enjoyment. Countless trains of cars, drawn by smoke-belching locomotives, traversed the long leagues of iron rails, similarly laden with passengers engaged in peaceful errands and freight intended for peaceful purposes. All seemed at rest so far as national hostile sentiments were concerned. All was in motion so far as useful industries demanded service. Europe, America, Asia and Africa alike had settled down as if to a long holiday from war, and the advocates of universal peace were jubilant over the progress of their cause, holding peace congresses and conferences at The Hague and elsewhere, and giving Nobel prizes of honor even to so questionable an advocate of peace as Theodore Roosevelt, the redoubtable Colonel of the Rough Riders.

Such occasions occur at frequent intervals in nature, in which a deep calm, a profound peace, rests over land and sea. The winds are hushed, the waves at rest; only the needful processes of the universe are in action, while for the time the world forgets the chained demons of unrest and destruction. But too quickly the chains are loosened, the winds and waves set free; and the hostile forces of nature rush over earth and sea, spreading terror and devastation in their path. Such energies of hostility are not confused to the elements. They exist in human communities. They underlie the political conditions of the nations, and their outbreak is at times as sudden and unlooked-for as that of the winds and waves. Such was the state of political affairs in Europe at the date mentioned, apparently calm and restful, while below the surface hostile forces which had long been fomenting unseen were ready to burst forth and whelm the world.

Dramatic Suddenness of the Outbreak

On the night of July 25th the people of the civilized world settled down to restful slumbers, with no dreams of the turmoil that was ready to burst forth. On the morning of the 26th they rose to learn that a great war had begun, a conflict the possible width and depth of which no man was yet able to foresee; and as day after day passed on, each day some new nation springing into the terrible arena until practically the whole of Europe was in arms and the Armageddon seemed at hand, the world stood amazed and astounded, wondering what hand had loosed so vast a catastrophe, what deep and secret causes lay below the ostensible causes of the war. The causes of this are largely unknown. As a panic at times affects a vast assemblage, with no one aware of its origin, so a wave of hostile sentiment may sweep over vast communities until the air is full of urgent demands for war with scarce a man knowing why.

[Illustration] from Europe and the Great War by Charles Morris


What is already said only feebly outlines the state of consternation into which the world was cast in that fateful week in which the doors of the Temple of Janus, long closed, were suddenly thrown wide open and the terrible God of War marched forth, the whole earth trembling beneath his feet. It was the breaking of a mighty storm in a placid sky, the fall of a meteor which spreads terror and destruction on all sides, the explosion of a vast bomb in a great assemblage; it was everything that can be imagined of the sudden and overwhelming, of the amazing and incredible.

Trade and Commerce Paralyzed

For the moment the world stood still, plunged into a panic that stopped all its activities. The chambers of finance throughout the nations were closed, to prevent that wild and hasty action which precipitates disaster. Throughout Europe trade, industry, commerce all ceased, paralyzed at their sources. No ship of any of the nations concerned dared venture from port, lest it should fall a prey to the prowling sea dogs of war which made all the oceans unsafe. The hosts of American tourists who had gone abroad under the sunny skies of peace suddenly beheld the dark clouds of war rolling overhead, blotting out the sun, and casting their black shadows over all things fair.

What does this state of affairs, this sudden stoppage of the wheels of industry, this unforeseen and wide spread of the conditions of war portend? Emerson has said: "When a great thinker comes into the world all things are at risk." There is potency in this, and also in a variation of Emerson's text which we shall venture to make: "When a great war comes upon the world all things are at risk." Everything which we have looked upon as fixed and stable quakes as if from mighty hidden forces. The whole world stands irresolute and amazed. The steady-going habits and occupations of peace cease or are perilously threatened, and no one can be sure of escaping from some of the dire effects of the catastrophe.

Widespread Influences

The conditions of production vanish, to be replaced by conditions of destruction. That which had been growing in grace and beauty for years is overturned and destroyed in a moment of ravage. Changes of this kind are not confined to the countries in which the war rages or the cities which conquering columns of troops occupy. They go beyond the borders of military activity; they extend to far-off quarters of the earth. We quote from the New York World a vivid picture drawn at the opening of the great European war. Its motto is "all the world is paying the cost of the folly of Europe."

[Illustration] from Europe and the Great War by Charles Morris


"Never before was war made so swiftly wide. News of it comes from Japan, from Porto Rico, from Africa, from places where in old days news of hostilities might not travel for months.

"Non-combatants in Argentina face ruin from the stoppage of their wheat trade. Peru declares a moratorium. China will miss her ginseng from the Virginia mountains, and must otherwise make medicine. Rubber tires go soaring in price. Boots will do the same while shoemakers shoot each other, and the commerce in hides is halted. Children the world over will miss their Nuremberg toys at Christmas.

"Non-combatants are in the vast majority, even in the countries at war, but they are not immune to its blight. Austria is isolated from the world because her ally, Germany, will take no chances of spilling military information and will not forward mails. If, telephoning in France, you use a single foreign word, even an English one, your wire is cut. Hans the German waiter, Franz the clarinettist in the little street band, is locked up as a possible spy. There are great German business houses in London and Paris; their condition is that of English and French business houses in Berlin, and that is not pleasant. Great Britain contemplates, as an act of war, the voiding of patents held by Germans in the United Kingdom.

"Nothing is too petty, nothing too great, nothing too distant in kind or miles from the field of war to feel its influence. The whole world is the loser by it, whoever at the end of all the battles may say that he has won."

Dilemma of the Tourists

Let us consider one of the early results of the war. It vitally affected great numbers of Americans, the army of tourists who had made their way abroad for rest, study and recreation and whose numbers, while unknown, were great, some estimating them at the high total of 100,000 or more. These, scattered over all sections of Europe, some with money in abundance, some with just enough for a brief journey, capitalists, teachers, students, all were caught in the sudden flurry of the war, their letters of credit useless, transportation difficult or impossible to obtain, all exposed to inconveniences, some to indignities, some of them on the flimsiest pretence seized and searched as spies, the great mass of them thrown into a state of panic that added greatly to the unpleasantness of the situation in which they found themselves.

While these conditions of panic gradually adjusted themselves, the status of the tourists continued difficult and annoying. The railroads were seized for the transportation of troops, leaving many Americans helplessly held in far interior parts, frequently without money or credit. One example of the difficulties encountered will serve as an instance which might be repeated a hundred fold.

Seven hundred Americans from Geneva were made by Swiss troops to leave a train. Many who refused were forced off at the point of guns. This compulsory removal took place at some distance from a station near the border, according to Mrs. Edward Collins, of New York, who with her three daughters was on the train. With 200 others they reached Paris and were taken aboard a French troop train. Most of the arrivals were women; the men were left behind because of lack of space. One hundred women refused to take the train without their husbands; scores struck back for Geneva; others on foot, carrying articles of baggage, started in the direction of Paris, hoping to get trains somewhere. just why Swiss troops thus occupied themselves is not explained; but in times of warlike turmoil many unexplainable things occur. Here is an incident of a different kind, told by one of the escaping host: "I went into the restaurant car for lunch," he said. "When I tried to return to the car where I'd left my suitcase, hat, cane and overcoat, I couldn't find it. Finally the conductor said blithely, 'Oh, that car was taken off for the use of the army.'

"I was forced to continue traveling coatless, hatless and minus my baggage until I boarded the steamer Flushing, when I managed to swipe a straw hat during the course of the Channel passage while the people were down eating in the saloon. I grabbed the first one on the hatrack. Talk about a romantic age. Why, I wouldn't live in any other time than now. We will be boring our grandchildren talking about this war."

The scarcity of provisions in many localities and the withholding of money by the banks made the situation, as regarded Americans, especially serious. Those fortunate enough to reach port without encountering these difficulties found the situation there equally embarrassing. The great German and English liners, for instance, were held up by order of the government, or feared to sail lest they should be taken captive by hostile cruisers. Many of these lay in port in New York, forbidden to sail for fear of capture. These included ships of the Cunard and International Marine lines, the North German Lloyd, the Hamburg-American, the Russian-American, and the French lines, until this port led the world in the congestion of great liners rendered inactive by the war situation abroad. The few that put to sea were utterly incapable of accommodating a tithe of the anxious and appealing applicants. It had ceased, in the state of panic that prevailed, to be a mere question of money. Frightened millionaires were credited with begging for steerage berths. Everywhere was dread and confusion, men and women being in a state of mind past the limits of calm reasoning. Impulse is the sole ruling force where reason has ceased to act.

Slowly the skies cleared; calmer conditions began to prevail. The United States government sent the battleship Tennessee abroad with several millions of dollars for the aid of destitute travelers and the relief of those who could not get their letters of credit and travelers' checks cashed. Such a measure of relief was necessary, there being people abroad with letters of credit for as much as $5,000 without money enough to buy a meal. One tourist said: "I had to give a Milwaukee doctor, who had a letter of credit for $2,500, money today to get shaved." London hotels showed much consideration for the needs of travelers without ready cash, but on the continent there were many such who were refused hotel accommodation.

As for those who reached New York or other American ports, many had fled in such haste as to leave their baggage behind. Numbers of the poorer travelers had exhausted their scanty stores of cash in the effort to escape from Europe and reached port utterly penniless. The case was one that called for immediate and adequate solution and the governmental and moneyed interests on this side did their utmost to cope with the situation. Vessels of American register were too few to carry the host applying for transportation, and it was finally decided to charter foreign vessels for this purpose and thus hasten the work of moving the multitude of appealing tourists. From 15,000 to 20,000 of these needed immediate attention, a majority of them being destitute.

An Ocean Incident

Men and women needed not only transportation, but money also, and in this particular there is an interesting story to tell. The German steamer Kronprinzessin Cecilie, bound for Bremen, had sailed from New York before the outbreak of the war, carrying about 1,200 passengers and a precious freight of gold, valued at $10,700,000. The value of the vessel herself added $5,000,000 to this sum. What had become of her and her tempting cargo was for a time unknown. There were rumors that she had been captured by a British cruiser, but this had no better foundation than such rumors usually have. Her captain was alert to the situation, being informed by wireless of the sudden change from peace to war. One such message, received from an Irish wireless station, conveyed an order from the Bremen company for him to return with all haste to an American port.

It was on the evening of Friday, July 31st, that this order came. At once the vessel changed its course. One by one the ship's lights were put out. The decks which could not be made absolutely dark were enclosed with canvas. By midnight the ship was as dark as the sea surrounding. On she went through Saturday and on Sunday ran into a dense fog. Through this she rushed with unchecked speed and in utter silence, not a toot coming from her fog-horn. This was all very well as a measure of secrecy, but it opened the way to serious danger through a possible collision, and a committee of passengers was formed to request the captain to reconsider his action. Just as the committee reached his room the first blast of the fog-horn was heard, its welcome tone bringing a sense of security where grave apprehension had prevailed.

[Illustration] from Europe and the Great War by Charles Morris


A group of financiers were on board who offered to buy the ship and sail her under American colors. But to all such proposals Captain Polack turned a deaf ear. He said that his duty was spelled by his orders from Bremen to turn back and save his ship, and these he proposed to obey. A passenger stated:

"There were seven of the crew on watch all the time, two aloft. This enabled the captain to know of passing vessels before they came above the horizon. We were undoubtedly in danger on Sunday afternoon. We intercepted a wireless message in French in which two French cruisers were exchanging data in regard to their positions.

"The captain told me that he imagined those to be two vessels who regularly patrolled the fishing grounds in the interest of French fisheries. If the captain of either of those vessels should have come out of the fog and found us, his share of the prize in money might have amounted to $4,000,000. Did privateer ever dream of such booty!

"Early on Saturday our four great funnels were given broad black bands in order to make us look like the Olympic, which was supposed to be twenty-four hours ahead of us. There was a certain grim humor in the fact that the wireless operator on the Olympic kept calling us all Friday night. Of course we did not answer."

On Tuesday, August 4th, the great ship came within sight of land at the little village of Bar Harbor, Mount Desert Island, off the coast of Maine; a port scarce large enough to hold the giant liner that had sought safety in its waters. Wireless messages were at once flashed to all parts of the country and the news that the endangered vessel, with its precious cargo, was safe, was received with general relief. As regards the future movements of the ship Captain Polack said:

"I can see no possibility of taking this ship to New York from here with safety. To avoid foreign vessels we should have to keep within the three-mile limit, and to accomplish this the ship would have to be built like a canoe. We have reached an American port in safety and that was more than I dared to hope. We have been in almost constant danger of capture, and we can consider ourselves extremely lucky to have come out so well.

"I know I have been criticized for making too great speed under bad weather conditions, but I have not wilfully endangered the lives of the passengers. I would rather have lost the whole ship and cargo than have assumed any such risk. Of course, aside from this consideration, my one aim has been to save my ship and my cargo from capture.

"I have not been acting on my own initiative, but under orders from the North German Lloyd in Bremen, and although I am an officer in the German navy my duty has been to the steamship line.

Closing the Stock Markets

We have so far dealt with only a few of the results of the war. There were various others of great moment, to some of which a passing allusion has been made.

On July 30th, for the first time in history, the stock markets of the world were all closed at the same time. Heretofore when the European markets have been closed those on this side of the ocean remained open. The New York Exchange was the last big stock market to announce temporary suspension of business. The New York Cotton Exchange closed, following the announcement of the failure of several brokerage firms. Stock Exchanges throughout the United States followed the example set by New York. The Stock Exchanges in London and the big provincial cities, as well as those on the Continent, ceased business, owing to the breakdown of the credit system, which was made complete by the postponement of the Paris settlement.

Depositors stormed every bank in London for gold, and the runs continued until every bank was closed. In order to protect its dwindling gold supply the Bank of England raised its discount rate to 8 per cent. Leading bankers of London requested Premier Asquith to suspend the bank act, and he promised to lay the matter before the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In all the capitals of Europe financial transactions virtually came to a standstill. The slump in the market value of securities within the first week of the war flurry was estimated at $2,000,000,000, and radical measures were necessary to prevent hasty action while the condition of panic prevailed.

This sudden stoppage of ordinary financial operations was accompanied by a similar cessation of the industries of peace over a wide range of territory. The artisan was forced to let fall the tools of his trade and take up those of war. The railroads were similarly denuded of their employees except in so far as they were needed to convey soldiers and military supplies. The customary uses of the railroad were largely suspended and travel went on under great difficulties. In a measure it had returned to the conditions existing before the invention of the locomotive. Even horse traffic was limited by the demands of the army for these animals, and foot travel regained some of its old ascendency.

War makes business active in one direction and in one only, that of army and navy supply, of the manufacture of the implements of destruction, of vast quantities of explosives, of multitudes of death-dealing weapons. Food supplies need to be diverted in the same direction, the demands of the soldier being considered first, those of the home people last, the latter being often supplied at starvation prices. There is plenty of work to do—of its kind. But it is of a kind that injures instead of aiding the people of the nations.

Terrible Effects of War

This individual source of misery and suffering in war times is accompanied by a more direct one, that of the main purpose of war—destruction of human life and of property that might be utilized by an enemy, frequently of merciless brigandage and devastation. It is horrible to think of the frightful suffering caused by every great battle. Immediate death on the field might reasonably be welcomed as an escape from the suffering arising from wounds, the terrible mutilations, the injuries that rankle throughout life, the conversion of hosts of able-bodied men into feeble invalids, to be kept by the direct aid of their fellows or the indirect aid of the people at large through a system of pensions.

[Illustration] from Europe and the Great War by Charles Morris


The physical sufferings of the soldiers from wounds and privations are perhaps not the greatest. Side by side with them are the mental anxieties of their families at home, their terrible suspense, the effect upon them of tidings of the maiming or death of those dear to them or on whose labor they immediately depend. The harvest of misery arising from this cause it is impossible to estimate. It is not to be seen in the open. It dwells unseen in humble homes, in city, village, or field, borne often uncomplainingly, but not less poignant from this cause. The tears and terrors thus produced are beyond calculation. But while the glories of war are celebrated with blast of trumpet and roll of drum, the terrible accompaniment of groans of misery is too apt to pass unheard and die away forgotten.

To turn from this roll of horrors, there are costs of war in other directions to be considered. These include the ravage of cities by flame or pillage, the loss of splendid works of architecture, the irretrievable destruction of great productions of art, the vanishing of much on which the world had long set store,

The Tide of Destruction

Not only on land, but at sea as well, the tide of destruction rises and swells. Huge warships, built at a cost of millions of dollars and tenanted by hundreds of hardy sailors, are torn and rent by shot and shell and at times sent to the bottom with all on board by the explosion of torpedoes beneath their unprotected lower hulls. The torpedo boat, the submarine, with other agencies of unseen destruction, have come into play to add enormously to the horrors of naval warfare, while the bomb-dropping airship, letting fall its dire missiles from the sky, has come to add to the dread terror and torment of the battlefield.

We began this chapter with a statement of the startling suddenness of this great war, and the widespread consequences which immediately followed. We have been led into a discussion of its issues, of the disturbing and distracting consequences which cannot fail to follow any great modern war between civilized nations. We had some examples of this on a small scale in the recent Balkan-Turkish war. But that was of minor importance and its effects, many of them sanguinary and horrible, were mainly confined to the region in which it occurred. But a war covering nearly a whole continent cannot be confined and circumscribed in its consequences. All the world must feel them in a measure—though diminishing with distance. The vast expanse of water which separates the United States from the European continent could not save its citizens from feeling certain ill effects from the struggle of war lords. America and Europe are tied together with many cords of business and interest, and the severing or weakening of these cannot fail to be seriously felt. Canada, at a similar width of removal from Europe, had reason to feel it still more seriously, from its close political relations with Great Britain and the ties of race and governmental conditions which intimately bind them. In fact, the war practically crossed the ocean and brought the Dominion of Canada within its reach. Many loyal Canadians stepped into the fray as an aid to the British cause,

Who Caused the Conflict?

Returning to the topic of the suddenness of the issue, which iii less than a week plunged the five leading nations of Europe into internecine war, shall we seek to discover an adequate reason for this rapid plunge into the arena of conflict? It was much less a rising of people against people than of war lord against war lord. What had the great mass of the people to do with it, except to raise the idle cries of "Hoch der Kaiser," "On to Berlin," and the like popular mouthings! What had the men of wealth and business prominence to do with it? What the parliaments of the nations? The fact is patent that this vast, this inexcusable, war was primarily due to three men, three autocrats, three rulers of a type beyond which the civilized world has long since grown, bare surviving remnants of Roman imperialism and medieval tyranny. These three men were Francis Joseph of Austria, William II of Germany, Nicholas II of Russia, men who, when it came to a question of war, had but to raise their hand and the peoples under their rule were forced to respond. We are not here concerned with their motives, the secret ambitions or political considerations that moved them. What we are concerned with is the terrible fact that three men, in this age of national progress, still possessed the power to plunge a continent into carnage, cause the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of their subjects and the misery of the millions dependent upon them. In the words of Shakespeare, "It is not, and it cannot come to good." The conclusion of this passage from the great bard, "but break my heart, for I must hold my tongue," does not apply to the modern historical critic, since to hold his tongue is the very last thing that he would think of doing in such a crisis.

It would have been but just, if those men were so eager for war, to have put them in the field themselves and let them decide the issue involved by a triple duel. If the whole three had fallen upon the field of glory the world would have closed over them almost without a ripple and all moved smoothly on. But to call vast armies into the field, to slaughter innocent men in myriads! that is another question.

In this age of the world it is out of all reason for any one man to have such fearful power. It is not a matter here of ability to decide wisely upon great issues, but that of any single, fallible individual's possessing such power. If war is threatened it should be decided upon deliberately and calmly by a body of the seniors of the nation, not the self-chosen advisers of the emperor. It may be said, indeed, that in such a case a nation might be practically vanquished before it was ready to strike back at a more impulsive enemy. Yet France and Britain are governed by such bodies of seniors, and neither of them can well go to war without parliamentary approval. Yet in the present exigency such deliberations as were necessary caused no loss of time, and both were ready to strike back promptly when their interests and obligations were threatened.

Cost of Modern Warfare

Let us close this preliminary chapter with a consideration, not of the immediate effect of war, but of its final cost. In the end, after the storm has passed, the changes of territory, if any, are made, and industry has begun to revive, what remains? There is left a load of debt that for half a century or longer after the war will hang like a chain around the necks of the people, every man and woman of which will feel its constricting bonds.

Here it is not the men who made the war that suffer. They have long been laid away in the cemetery, with statues significant of the "glory" of their career, anthems chanted to their memory. It is not they who must pay the cost. This falls upon the people, who are taxed through generations to meet the dead and past issue, and suffer a perennial privation in consequence.

And in the days to which we have now come the cost of war is a giant to be reckoned with. With every increase in the size of cannon, the tonnage of warships, the destructiveness of weapons and ammunition, this element of cost grows proportionately greater and has in our day become stupendous. Nations may spend in our era more cold cash in a day of war than would have served for a year in the famous days of chivalry. A study of this question was made by army and navy experts in 1914, and they decided that the expense to the five nations concerned in the European war would be not less than $50,000,000 a day.

If we add to this the loss of untold numbers of young men in the prime of life, whose labor is needed in the fields and workshops of the nations involved, other billions of dollars must be added to the estimate, due to the crippling of industries. There is also the destruction of property to be considered, including the very costly modern battleships, this also footing up into the billions.

'When it is considered that in thirteen years the cost of maintenance of the armies and navies of the warring countries, as well as the cost of naval construction, exceeded $20,000,000,000, some idea may be had of the expense attached to war and the preparations of European countries for just such contingencies as those that arose in Europe in 1914. The cost of the Panama Canal, one of the most useful aids to the commerce of the world, was approximately $375,000,000, but the expense of the preparations for war in Europe during the time it took to build the canal exceeded the cost of this gigantic undertaking nearly sixty to one.

The money thus expended on preparation for war during the thirteen years named would, if spent in railroad and marine construction, have given vast commercial power to these nations. To what extent have they been benefited by the rivalry to gain precedence in military power? They stand on practically the same basis now that it is all at an end. Would they not be on the same basis if it had never begun? Aside from this is the incentive to employ these vast armaments in the purpose for which they were designed, the effect of creating a military spirit and developing a military caste in each by the nations, a result very likely to be productive of ill effects.

The total expense of maintenance of armies and navies, together with the cost of construction in thirteen years, in Germany, Austria, Russia, France and Great Britain, was as follows:

Naval expenditures $5,648,525,000
Construction 2,146,765,000
Cost of armies 13,138,403,000
Total $20,933,693,000

The wealth of the same nations in round figures is:

Great Britain $80,000,000,000
Germany 60,500,000,000
Austria 25,000,000,000
France 65,000,000,000
Russia 40,000,000,000
Total $270,500,000,000

This enormous expense which was incurred in preparation for war needed to be rapidly increased to meet the expenses of actual warfare. The British House of Commons authorized war credits amounting to $1,025,000,000, while the German Reichstag voted $1,250,000,000. Austria and France had to set aside vast sums for their respective war chests.

Half Century to Pay Debts

In anticipation of trouble Germany in 1913 voted $250,000,000 for extraordinary war expenses and about $100,000,000 was spent on an aerial fleet. France spent $60,000,000 for the same purpose.

The annual cost of maintaining the great armies and navies of Europe even on a peace basis is enormous, and it must be vastly increased during war. The official figures for 1913–14 are:

British army $224,300,000
British navy 224,140,000
German army 183,090,000
German navy 111,300,000
French army 191,431,580
French navy 119,571,400
Russian army 317,800,000
Russian navy 122,500,000
Austrian army 82,300,000
Austrian navy 42,000,000
Total 81,618,432,980

It was evident that taxes to meet the extraordinary expenses of war would have to be greatly increased in Germany and France. As business became at a standstill throughout Europe and every port of entry blocked, experts wondered where the money was to come from. All agreed that, when peace should be declared and the figures were all in, the result financially would be staggering and that the heaviest burden it had ever borne would rest upon Europe for fifty years to come. For when the roar of the cannon ceases and the nations are at rest, then dawns the era of payment, inevitable, inescapable, one in which for generations every man and woman must share.