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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

With teetotalism and similar fads


Mr. Wilson had been in office but a little over a year when Prussia, using Austria as an instrument and Serbia as an excuse, forced an aggressive war on the whole of Europe. The sympathies of most Americans were with the Western Allies, especially with France, for which country the United States had always felt a sort of spiritual cousinship. England was, as she had always been, less trusted, but in this instance, especially when Prussia opened the war with a criminal attack upon the little neutral nation of Belgium, it was generally conceded that she was in the right. Dissentients there were, especially among the large German or German-descended population of the Middle West, and the Prussian Government spent money like water to further a German propaganda in the States. But the mass of American opinion was decidedly favourable to the cause of those who were at war with the German Empire. Yet it was at that time equally decided and much more unanimous against American intervention in the European quarrel.

The real nature of this attitude was not grasped in England, and the resultant misunderstanding led to criticisms and recriminations which everyone now regrets. The fact is that the Americans had very good reason for disliking the idea of being drawn into the awful whirlpool in which Europe seemed to be perishing. It was not cowardice that held her back: her sons had done enough during the four terrible years of civil conflict in which her

whole manhood was involved to repel that charge for ever. Rather was it a realistic memory of what such war means that made the new America eager to keep the peace as long as it might. There was observable, it is true, a certain amount of rather silly Pacifist sentiment, especially in those circles which the Russians speak of as "Intelligenzia," and Americans as "high-brow." It went, as it usually goes, though the logical connection is not obvious, with teetotalism and similar fads. All these fads were peculiarly rampant in the United States in the period immediately preceding the war, when half the States went "dry," and some cities passed what seems to us quite lunatic laws--prohibiting cigarette-smoking and creating a special female police force of "flirt-catchers." The whole thing is part, one may suppose, of the deliquescence of the Puritan tradition in morals, and will probably not endure. So far as such doctrinaire Pacifism is concerned, it seems to have dissolved at the first sound of an American shot. But the instinct which made the great body of sensible and patriotic Americans, especially in the West, resolved to keep out of the war, so long as their own interests and honour were not threatened, was of a much more solid and respectable kind. Undoubtedly most Americans thought that the Allies were in the right; but if every nation intervened in every war where it thought one or other side in the right, every war must become universal. The Republic was not pledged, like this country, to enforce respect for Belgian neutrality; she was not, like England, directly threatened by the Prussian menace. Indirectly threatened she was, for a German victory would certainly have been followed by an attempt to realize well-understood German ambitions in South America. But most Americans were against meeting trouble halfway.

Such was the temper of the nation. The President carefully conformed to it, while at the same time guiding and enlightening it. For nearly two years he kept his country out of the war. The task was no easy one. He was assailed

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