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60 the United States and the European War

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60. THE UNITED STATES AND THE EUROPEAN WAR. When the war broke out in the summer of 1914, the American people were amazed and surprised; there were, of course, differences of interest and attention, some persons at once taking acute and ab sorbing interest, while others passed the whole thing by with a shrug of the shoulders as some thing essentially without moment to their own country. It naturally took time, and consider able time, for the great body of the people to understand the war; indeed, the number under standing it at the beginning was very small. The history of the development of intelligent interest and of responsibility, as well as the growing realization that the conflict was our own or would become so, is a history of very great significance and importance. No one can, however, write that history with perfect assur ance that he grasps the truth at every point, because it is fundamentally a history dealing with public psychology and is at the best in tangible. The main features of the story can, however, be given with some degree of con fidence.

There are obvious reasons for the absence of absorbing interest and understanding at the beginning. Few persons understood European conditions, few realized that Europe had been living with a powder magazine for decades be cause there were the vast armies and navies and mutual suspicions and race rivalries and various other conditions that might in a twinkling set the continent ablaze. The whole militaristic make-up and spirit of Germany, if known at all, appeared unreal and too much out of harmony with life, as Americans knew life, to be taken over-seriously. Furthermore, partly because of the activity of peace organizations, it looked as if the cause of peace were rapidly growing and as if war was too plainly destruc tive and foolish to be feared in the modern world. Financial, economic and trade condi tions binding modern nations together seemed too strong to be lightly broken even if they did not make war impossible.

There was, early in the war and even before we were directly affected, more intense interest in the East than in the country west of the Ap palachians, at least such appeared to be the fact, and interest and attention gradually di minished toward the West. This fact is easily

explicable, although just how much weight should be thrown upon it one cannot say. To the extent that this difference existed, it can be explained by calling to mind the simple fact of distance which always affects our feelings. It was inevitably difficult for the dweller in the Mississippi Valley to comprehend the reality of a struggle which was so distant and so out of keeping with the daily life about him. No one would dare to sayjust how large was the proportion of the people, East or West, who in the early days sympathized with the Allies. There is certainly no ground for complaining because men did not decide before they knew the facts; but it is safe to say that the invasion of Belgium and the story of the ascrap of paper;' Germany's readiness to throw into the waste basket the most explicit provision for the maintenance of Belgium neutrality, awak ened resentment, even if in a mild form, almost at once. There was, however, at the beginning practically no demand that the American gov ernment should publicly protest against the violation of Belgium, though demands of that kind were occasionally heard as the months went by. For an appreciable time, too, there was little public excitement about the German atrocities in Belgium. Many put the stories down either as gross exaggeration or as the lamentable but customary accompaniments of war, and so it may be said that the winter of 1915 was well along before there came an ap preciation of the enormity of the German of fenses against the unhappy civilians of Belgium. Even then, the knowledge on which judgment could be based was probably confined largely to those having the opportunity to read official reports and tales of apparently undoubted re liability. Some persons — perhaps, in the ag gregate, many persons—were affected and dulled in their belief by the constant assertion of German sympathizers that all stories of Ger man conduct, save those of simple rectitude, were made in Great Britain. Still, it is probably true that the great majority were not materially misled by the German propagandists.

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