TWENTY YEARS AFTER
Lieut.-Col. George A. Drew
TWENTY YEARS ago the world blundered into an orgy of meaningless destruction. More than sixty million men became involved in the unaccustomed and unwanted task of war. With high ideals and
benefit of clergy, these peace-loving men slaughtered more than ten million of their fellow men for whom they bore no personal hatred. Untold physical and mental suffering followed. Hundreds of billions of dollars were spent, and a burden of debt created that led inevitably to the present economic chaos. What did it all prove?
It proved, first of all, the insane and ghastly folly of modem mechanical warfare. It proved also that science and industry have made it possible to destroy our very civilization. And it proved, more than anything else, how* dangerous it is to build up great forces of destruction which can be* let loose at the whim of a few misguided men.
No more tragic drama was ever enacted than by those dazed statesmen who saw the floodgates giving way before the irresistible tide of militarism, and sought to avert the catastrophe by time-honored expressions of diplomacy. Instead of the formal phrases that were used twenty years ago, they should have said in understandable words: “This is criminal insanity. There can never be any justification for precipitating war because of the murder of an insignificant archduke by an irresponsible extremist.”
Great armies began to move, and still the mummery continued. In not one of the many diplomatic documents which flew back and forth was this simple reality even recognized. The fate of the world lay in the hands of a few men of no more than ordinary ability. The forces of destruction w*ere piled high on all sides. An accidental spark started the flames of war, and they could do nothing but let the costly fire bum itself out.
Now, twenty years afterward, we see the same competition in armaments under way. The first six months of 1934 saw an enormous increase in the production of war equipment. Every manufacturing nation greatly increased its exports. Under the magic name of “security,” insecurity is being created everywhere. Forces far more powerful for war and much more easily put in motion are accumulating on all sides. It only needs another spark like that at Sarajevo to start the conflagration. It might come from Vienna, from Danzig, from the Saar, from Manchuria, or from any of the many points where tension exists. It might easily start from the present crisis in Germany. And the terrifying thought is that these mighty forces are in the hands once more of a few* men, some sincere, some irresponsible.
Throughout the world, the problems resulting from the last war become increasingly critical. Men who are no longer young now find it impossible to compete in the labor market with younger men, no matter how willing they may be. The average age of the Canadian veterans of the Great War is now forty-six. Whether they were wounded or not, they must lx* cart'd for. They lost their best years at the nation's call. They were aged far beyond their years. They and their families must be provided work or a decent living. They are entitled to nothing less. For years to come, some adequate provision must be made for scores of thousands of these men and their dependents. It presents the major social problem of the State. It is not charity. It is a solemn obligation undertaken when these men enlisted.
Some nation-wide plan must be worked out which will give them work to maintain their self-respect. It will cost a great deal of money, when money is greatly needed in so many directions. The problem is the same in every nation that fought. But if there is so much money to prepare for
another war, there must be money for this purpose. A prompt recognition of what this problem really means should have a sobering effect on those who spend everincreasing millions of public money on new* armaments which day by day increase the probability of another catastrophe. If we have difficulty in meeting our obligations arising out of the last, how can we ever meet the obligations arising out of a new and far more costly war? It simply cannot be done. It means suicide for any nation which becomes involved in such a war. That is the reality we must face, and facing it, resolve that war shall lx? discussed in honest terms and stripped of all the glamor which once made it appear a rather glorious adventure.
Why Canada Fought
nrWENTY YEARS after the event, it is difficult to recapture the spirit in which Canada went to war in 1914. But it should lx recalled by those who seek to understand the catastrophe which led up to the present chaos. Whatever the underlying causes may have been, it must be remembered that the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who served left home with as noble a purpose as ever led men to choose the path of sacrifice. They believed they were fighting to prevent the very thing we see occurring again today. These young men who now are finding life so difficult when they are no longer young had every reason to hope for continued peace.
In the years before the war a period of unprecedented prosperity and an increasing flow of immigration seemed to justify the boast that, while the nineteenth century had belonged to the United States, the twentieth belonged to Canada. Immigrants numbering 395,80-1 entered in 1912, and 417,709 in 1913. The vast arable areas of the West were rapidly being settled. There seemed good reasons for the confident assurance that Canada would have a population of 25,000,(XX) before 1950. Two new transcontinental railways had just been completed; building and construction were forging ahead in spite of the financial reaction of 1913 to overspeculation in Western land: industry was steadily increasing the use at home of our raw materials; the extent of our mineral wealth was just becoming apparent; unemployment was practically unknown; in every way it was a land of opportunity, where golden hopes for the future gave our young men and women every reason to wish for long years of peace in which they might take their part in fulfilling Canada’s exciting destiny.
True, there had been threats of war in Europe. In 1913 the introduction of the Naval Bill, which would have authoriz.ed Canada to contribute $35,(XX),(XX) for the construction of units of the British Navy, was accompanied by statements which made no attempt to disguise the fact that it was part of an Empire plan to checkmate the rapid increase of the German Navy. In March, so conservative a paper as
the London Times in commenting on the German naval activity said:
“The plans have been thought out as a whole. Their object plainly is to enable Germany to strike at her own moment more heavily and more promptly than ever.”
In the bitter debates which preceded the passing of the Bill in the Canadian House of Commons and its final defeat in the Senate, there seemed to be little tendency to disagree with this blunt interpretation of Germany’s aims, but as the year wore on, the danger seemed to pass and Canadians turned to the happier prospect of their own abundant prosperity.
The annual report of the Royal Bank for 1913 reflected the general attitude of the time:
“Let us look at some of the evidences of prosperity before us. England stands pre-eminently prosperous.
It is said by many leading economists that the year 1913 has been the most prosperous one ever known in England. The cloud cast over business in England by predictions of war with Germany has entirely passed away, and judging from reports, the relations between these great nations are harmonious. . . Coming to our own country, we find a pronounced feeling of hopefulness. From every province comes the voice of prosperity.”
In the session of the House of Commons in the spring of 1914, many statements were made by members of recog-
Will he break loose again?
abi!*ty. which tended to confirm the impression th, the threat of war had entirely passed away. “Who in tl gmng t0 fight with?” was the question of OI ntic of the militia expenditure. Another said: “There no emergency in sight, and there will be none in our dr and generation. The months of 1914 sped on and from every province i StnanT,Lth? Parity. The murder o? à scant aTtPnt hdrke Saíajevo on June 28 attracted onl of scant à attention a°ndthaTHyear0r,enJOy from people who were "olfday preparing opportunité to reap tl Austrian L ff‘ nuwith startling suddenness came th tmeriof whfh K fff rb'a °n July 28‘ Vast forces of da imf f :hl h hafd 5660 accumulating for years were draw into the vortex of war. The dreaded modern Armageddo
was at last a substantial reality.
For Germany, it was Der Tag—the day of destiny, the day for which the German taxpayers had been taxed to the limit to create an army and a navy that would be an invincible force behind the Welt-Politik of Pan-Germanism.
What We Sacrificed
POR CANADA, it was a day of amazement but not of doubt. Mighty armies had been let loose with the open threat of world dominion by grey-clad troops who sang Deutschland über Alles and meant it. Party differences which had been so bitter a year before w-ere completely forgotten. Those who had previously argued most vehemently against Canadian participation in any European war were the first to
declare that Canada must bear its share in destroying by force the menacing figure of Teuton militarism.
The unanimity of opinion in Canada was a response to the firm conviction that Great Britain had done everything possible to maintain peace and had now become the defender of democracy. Only a year before, German newspapers had hailed the defeat of the Naval Bill as evidence of the fact that the younger nations of the Empire could no longer be looked upon for military support of the motherland. As
the Hamburger Nachrichten put it: “People everywhere will obtain the conviction that England cannot depend upon such help from her Colonies.”
Strange then to German ears sounded these words of one ot the chief opponents of the Naval Bill, Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
"We all hope and pray that the effort of Sir Edward Greymay lx? successful in persuading the nationsof the Conference to the restoration of peace. I confess that the prospects are verydoubtful. It is probable and almost certain that England will have to take her share in the conflict, not only for the protection of her own interests but for the protection of f ranee and the higher civilization of which these two nations are today the noblest expression. I have often declared that if the Mother Country were ever in danger, or if danger ever threatened her, Canada would render assistance to the fullest extent of her power.”
Just as definite were the words of another great FrenchCanadian, the Hon. Rodolphe Lemieux, w-ho afterw-ard lost a son in the war:
. “'' hat is to be done by Canada if the Motherland is involved, as seems quite possible? Canada, being an integral part of the British Empire, is certainly at war when the Empire is at war. The reason is that the British flag is our flag, and because it protects our rights, our liberty and everything that is dear and sacred in this free land, we should rally as one man to the defense, first, of our coasts, and then of the great Empire to which we belong.”
That was the spirif of 1914. That w-as the spirit in w-hich hundreds of thousands of young men, to whom the future seemed to offer boundless prospects, left their loved ones and a life of peace and prosperity. It is important that the younger generation of today should realize what those men gave up and why they went to w-ar. It was not in any spirit of adventure or of relief from unhappy circumstances that they chose an experience which, even from its earliest days of training, w-as to most of them completely strange. They were fighting lor Canada and the Empire, not alone because Canada and the Empire were at war, but for something more. Their sacrifice was to have some purpose beyond the pomp of victory. It was to help in smashing the god of war. Sir Robert Borden expressed the sincere thought and hopt* of Canada shortly after the beginning of the war in these words: "Amid all the horror and welter of this world-wide conflict, we may yet discern hope for the future. It will arouse, I hope, the conscience of all the nations to bring about concerted action lor tin* reduction of armaments and for the placing of the whole world upon what one might term a peace footing.”
l)r. Michael Clark, of Red Deer, in one of the first speeches of the memorable August session of the Canadian House of Commons, said:
“Every man in the British Empire feels that he is fighting for the Empire and for the flag, but he is fighting for more than that. He is fighting for the principles that are at the root of the highest of civilizations: he is fighting for human freedom.”
On September 9, 1914, the King spoke for the Empire: “During the past few weeks, the people of my whole Empire, at home and overseas, have moved with one mind and purpose to confront and overthrow an unparalleled assault upon the continuity of civilization and the peace of mankind.”
That w-as the spirit. That was the purpose. The war years passed, and new thousands followed those who had gone before. The first division, which in 1914 had seemed so great a force, was joined by other divisions. Constant reinforcements poured into France to replace the ever-mounting casualties, until more than 600,000 Canadians had enlisted for active service. Many thousands died, many thousands were terribly mutilated, billions were spent, and a burden of debt created that will impede development for years to come.
YTL/WS ALL this sacrifice worth while? Ask the thousands W who are still in military hospitals and will remain there till they die.
Ask the scores of thousands whose physical mutilations make the struggle of life increasingly difficult. Ask the thousands of widows w-ho have struggled bravely to raise children who would lx: a credit to the smiling young man who sleeps in France or Flanders. Ask the men who were not wounded but whose spirit was literally burned out in the caldron of war. Ask the mothers and fathers w-ho lost the happiness and comfort of their sons’ maturing years. Ask any of them if it was worth w hile, and the chances are they will say it was, if their sacrifice will prevent a repetition of the same folly. Those pitiful men with hollow cheeks and wasted Ixxlies who have suffered ever since the w-ar, will
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probably smile and tell you that they would do it all over again. Lonely women whose most vivid recollection is that last picture of a cheerful face in a train window many years ago, will tell you that they would not have had their man make another choice.
But they will tell you something more. They will tell you that it must never be repeated again. They still hope that their sacrifice was not in vain, and that ail the suffering of these twenty years will arouse the conscience of the world, as the Premier of Canada hoped it would in 1914, “to bring about concerted action for the reduction of armaments and for the placing of the whole world upon what one might term a peace footing.”
Twenty years is a long time to wait for the fulfillment of the promises made at Versailles. They have been shamefully forgotten. On all sides armament goes on apace, and no really effective effort is being made to stop it. But the failure to keep those promises is not merely a breach of faith between nations. It is a breach of faith with those brave men of all nations who died in the hope that their sacrifice might save the world from barbarism.
Twenty years is a long time to remember the lessons of that war. Otherwise we should not see the renascence of German militarism today. Germany has reason to complain, because at the time she was compelled to disarm the promise was made on behalf of the Allies that it was but a first step to their similar disarmament. But that does not minimize the dangerof a new Pan-Germanism which may become as menacing as the Kaiser’s vision of world dominion.
No matter what the cause or excuse may be, it would be dangerous to ignore the organized attempt that is being made to legitimatize war as an instrument of national policy in German minds. “We must take our fate in our own hands,” Professor Banse tells the youth of Germany, “and begin at last to prepare vigorously for war. Nobody capable of thought can doubt that war stands between happiness in the German future and our misery.” Hardly more reassuring is this challenge of President Hindenburg: “What we have lost must not remain lost. Remember it, German people. That which was German must become German again. Remember it, German youth.”
What We Can Do
"DUT LET us not be too ready to con-D demn. Every nation which has failed to urge substantial disarmament has contributed to that fever of resentment of which these expressions are the visible symptoms. That danger and the resentment from which
it arises will not be aired by threats. It may still be cured, however, if we will remember why we all fought, and vigorously follow the course we then said we were going to follow.
Even in Canada much has been forgotten in those twenty years when it is possible to hear such a remark as this in the Canadian Senate: “No nation ever grew great unless it fought for its rights. Slushy sentimentalism leads to a spineless, ineffective nationhood.”
Yes, we must fight for our country, but not in the way this Senator suggests. Let us fight with our brains and our voices for the ideals expressed in 1911. Let us combat in every way humanly possible the cynical suggestion that we meant nothing by our promise at Versailles in 1919 to join in a world-wide attempt to enforce peace. Let those who are the living witnesses of the world's supreme folly teach the lesson that no nation can remain great which suffers the full fury of modern war. The victor must fall exhausted with the vanquished.
The old militarism was destroyed, and Canada has a right tobe proud of the courage and fortitude with which the whole nation faced the ordeal of war. But in the face of new threats of militarism far more menacing than the old, let us remember why we fought. Our leaders believed the statements they made and we believed them. Unless they are accepted today as a true expression of our purpose, then the sacrifice has been in vain. But it is not yet too late on this twentieth anniversary of that great catastrophe to “arouse the conscience of all nations to bring about concerted action for the reduction of armaments and for the placing of the whole world upon a peace footing.”
How is it to be done? How are the mounting barriers of nationalism to be overcome? We learned the power of propaganda during the Great War. It became one of the most important factors in breaking the enemy’s military resistance. Why can it not be used with equal effect in the cause of peace? Today, with the radio we can convey our thoughts to other nations with greater ease than ever before. I f people of goodwill in all nations will join in the demand that their leaders prepare for peace instead of war, the hopes of Versailles may still be fulfilled.
Anything that offers any chance of success is worth trying. There is no time to lose. Those who are making enormous profits from the present feverish preparations for war have their propaganda well organized. Those who want peace must be prepared to work for it with equal vigor.