The Lord Paramount was able to give exactly fifty-three minutes of thought altogether to the threatened Canadian defection before he made a decision. There was one sustained stretch of rather under thirty minutes, before he got up on the morning after he had learnt of this breach on the imperial front; the other twenty-three-odd minutes were in scraps, two or three at a time. There were also some minutes of overlap with the kindred questions of Australia and South Africa. His decision was to take a spirited line both with Canada and the United States.
The truth is that in this matter and every matter with which he dealt he did not think things out in the least. Men of action do not think things out. They cannot. Events are too nimble for them. They may pause at times and seem to think, but all they do in fact is to register the effective sum of such ideas as they had accumulated before they became men of action. Like most Englishmen of his type and culture, the Lord Paramount had long allowed a certain resentment against American success to fester in his mind. He had long restrained a craving to behave with spirit towards America. Just to show America. In a crisis this was bound to find release.
He resolved to make an immense display of naval force and throw the battle fleet and indeed all the naval forces available across the Atlantic to Halifax, unannounced. It was to be like a queen’s move in chess, a move right across the board, bold and dangerous, to create a new situation. Suddenly this awe-inspiring array, with unknown orders and unrevealed intentions, would loom up from nothingness upon the coast of Nova Scotia. This rendezvous was to be approached from a northeasterly direction so as to avoid the liner routes and create an effect of complete surprise. It was to be a blow at the nervous equilibrium of the American continent.
A powerful squadron would enter the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and detach an array of small craft to steam up to Ottawa, while the main fleet, with its multitudinous swarming screen of destroyers, torpedo craft and aeroplanes was to spread out in a great curve eastward from Cape Sable, a mighty naval crescent within striking distance of New York. When these manoeuvres were completed the outgoing and incoming liners to New York, Boston, and Halifax need never be out of sight of a British warship or so, cruising ready for action, for nearly a thousand miles. The battleships and battle cruisers were to be instructed to make themselves conspicuous and to hold up and impress shipping. The moral effect on both Canada and the United States could not fail to be immense. More than half the American fleet, the Lord Paramount understood, was in the Pacific based on San Francisco, vis-à-vis to Japan; many ships were reported in dock, and the preponderance of British strength therefore would be obvious to the crudest intelligence. Meanwhile the exchange of views with Washington was to be protracted in every possible way until the display of force could be made.
It took, he found, just forty-two minutes more of the Lord Paramount’s time to launch the cardinal orders for this stupendous gesture. Once more the unthinking urgency with which the crowning decisions in history must be made impressed itself upon his mind. The acts of history, he realized, are but the abrupt and hazardous confirmation of the vague balance of preceding thought.
A multitude of other matters were pressing upon his attention. All the while he was full of unanswered criticisms of the thing he was doing. But there was no time at all to weigh the possibilities of failure in this attempt to browbeat the New World. It seemed the plain and only way of meeting and checking the development of the American threat and so bringing the ambiguous hesitations of the European Powers to an end. He dismissed some lurking doubts and transferred his attentions to the advantages and difficulties of accepting a loan of Japanese troops for service in India. That was the next most urgent thing before him. Bengal was manifestly rotten with non-cooperation and local insurrectionary movements; a systematic wrecking campaign was doing much to disorder railway communications, and the Russo–Afghan offensive was developing an unexpected strength. He realized he had not been properly informed about the state of affairs in India.
It was impossible to carry out the orders of the Lord Paramount as swiftly as he had hoped. The Admiralty seemed to have had ideas of its own about the wisdom of entirely denuding the British coasts, and with many ships a certain unpreparedness necessitated delays. The Admiralty has long been a power within a power in the Empire, and the Lord Paramount realized this as a thing he had known and forgotten.
It was three days before the Grand Fleet was fairly under way across the Atlantic. It included the Rodney, the Royal Sovereign, and four other ships of that class, the Barham, Warspite, Malaya, and two other battleships, the Hood and Renown and another battle cruiser and the aircraft carriers, Heroic, Courageous, and Glorious. A screen of destroyers and scouting light cruisers had preceded it and covered its left wing.
The first division of the minor flotilla coming up from Plymouth had started twelve hours ahead of the capital ships. These latter converged from north and south of the British Isles to a chosen rendezvous south of Cape Farewell.
The American navy, he learnt in the course of another day, was already in movement; it was unexpectedly prompt and in unexpected strength. The Lord Paramount was presently informed that a force of unknown composition, but which was stated to include the Colorado, the West Virginia, and at least ten other battleships, was assembling between the Azores and the Gulf of Mexico and steaming northward as if to intercept the British fleet before it reached the Canadian coast. This was a much more powerful assembly of ships than he had supposed possible when first he decided on his queen’s move. But that move was now past recall.
Something of the chessboard quality hung over the North Atlantic for the next three days. The hostile fleets were in wireless communication within thirty-six hours of the Lord Paramount’s decision, and on a chart of the Atlantic in an outer room flagged pins and memoranda kept him substantially aware of the state of the game.
Neither government was anxious to excite public feeling by too explicit information of these portentous manoeuvres. Neither, as a matter of fact, admitted any official cognizance of these naval movements for three days. Nothing was communicated to the press, and all inquiries were stifled. The American President seemed to have been engaged in preparing some sort of declaration or manifesto that would be almost but not quite an ultimatum. Steadily these great forces approached each other, and still the two governments assumed that some eleventh-hour miracle would avert a collision.
A little after midnight on May 9th the fringes of the fleets were within sight of each other’s flares and searchlights. Both forces were steaming slowly and using searchlights freely. Movement had to be discreet. There was an unusual quantity of ice coming south that year and a growing tendency to fog as Newfoundland was approached. Small banks of fog caused perplexing disappearances and reappearances. The night was still and a little overcast, the sea almost calm, and the flickering reflections on the clouds to the south were the first visible intimation the British had of the closeness of the Americans. Wireless communication was going on between the admirals, but there were no other exchanges between the two fleets, though the air was full of the cipher reports and orders of each side.
Each fleet was showing lights; peace conditions were still assumed, and survivors from the battle describe that night scene as curiously and impressively unwarlike. One heard the throbbing of engines, the swish and swirl of the waters about the ships, and the rhythmic fluctuations of the whir of the aeroplanes above, but little else. There was hardly any talk, the witnesses agree. A sort of awe, a sense of the close company of Fate upon that westward course kept men silent. They stood still on the decks and watched the pallid search-lights wander to and fro, to pick out and question this or that destroyer or cruiser, or to scrutinize some quietly drifting streak of fog. Some illuminated ship would stand out under a searchlight beam, white and distinct, and then, save for a light or so, drop back into the darkness. Then eyes would go southward to the distant flickerings of the American fleet, still out of sight below the horizon.
Like all naval encounters, the history of these fatal hours before the Battle of the North Atlantic remains inextricably confused. Here again the time factor is so short that it is almost impossible to establish a correct sequence of events. What did such and such commander know when he gave this or that order? Was this or that message ever received? It is clear that the American fleet was still assembling and coming round in a great curve as it did so to the south of the British forces. These latter were now steaming southwestward towards Halifax. The American admiral, Semple, was coming into parallelism with the British course. He agreed by wireless not to cross a definite line before sunrise; the two fleets would steam side by side until daylight with at least five miles of water between them. Then he took upon himself to inform Sir Hector Greig, the British commander-inchief of the general nature of his instructions.
“My instructions,” said his message, “are to patrol the North Atlantic and to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent any possibility of hostile action against Canada or the United States of America in North American waters.”
Sir Hector replied: “My instructions are to patrol the seas between Great Britain and Canada, to base myself upon Halifax and send light craft up the Saint Lawrence River.”
Each referred the situation back to his own government. The Lord Paramount was awakened at dawn and sat in his white silk pajamas, drinking a cup of tea and contemplating the situation.
“Nothing must actually happen,” he said. “Greig must not fire a shot unless he is fired at. He had better keep on his present course. . . . The Americans seem to be hesitating . . . .”
It was still night at Washington, and the American President had never gone to bed.
“Are the British in great force?” he asked.
Nobody knew the strength of the British.
“This cheap Mussolini at Westminster is putting us up some! I don’t see why we should climb down. How the devil is EITHER party to climb down? Is there no way out?”
“Is there no way out?” asked the Lord Paramount, neglecting his tea.
“Battleships are made for battles, I suppose,” said someone at Washington.
“Aw — don’t talk that stuff!” said the President. His intonation strangely enough was exactly what a scholarly imperialist would expect it to be. “We made ’em because we had the Goddamned experts on our hands. Wish to hell we hadn’t come in on this.”
An ingenious person at Washington was suggesting that if the American fleet wheeled about to the south and turned eastward towards Great Britain, Greig would have either to follow with all his forces, split his fleet, or leave England exposed.
“That will just repeat the situation off Ireland,” said the President.
Until it was too late some hitch in his mind prevented him from realizing that every hour of delay opened a score of chances for peace. A sleepless night had left him fagged and unendurably impatient. “We can’t have the two fleets steaming to and fro across the Atlantic and not firing a gun. Ludicrous. No. When we built a fleet we meant it to be a fleet. And here it is being a fleet — and a fleet it’s got to be — and behave accordingly. We’ve got to have the situation settled here and now. We’ve got to end this agony. Semple must keep on. How long can they keep on parallel before anything happens?”
A brisk young secretary went to inquire.
Meanwhile the Lord Paramount had got into a warm dressing gown and was sketching out the first draft of a brilliant memorandum to the President. It was to be conciliatory in tone, but it was to be firm in substance. It was to take up the whole unsettled question of the freedom of the seas in a fresh and masterful manner. The room was flooded with sunlight, and in a patch of that clear gay brightness on his table were some fresh lilies of the valley, put there by the forethought of Mrs. Pinchot. She had been sent for to put the memorandum in order as soon as his pencil notes were ready.
Almost simultaneously messengers of disaster came to both these men.
The brisk young secretary returned to the President.
“Well,” said the President, “how long can we carry on before we see ’em?”
“Sir,” said the brisk young secretary, with such emotion in his voice that the President looked up and stared at him.
“Ugh!” said the President and clutched his hands as if he prayed, for he guessed what that white-faced young man had to tell.
“The Colorado,” said the young man. “Blown out of the water. We’ve sunk a great battleship . . . .”
It was Hereward Jackson broke the news to the Lord Paramount.
His face, too, lit with a sort of funereal excitement, told its message.
“Battle!” he gasped. “We’ve lost the Rodney . . . .”
For some moments the consciousness of the Lord Paramount struggled against this realization. “I am dreaming,” he said.
But if so the dream would not break, and the tale of the disaster began to unfold before him, irreversibly and mercilessly, as if it were history already written. News continued to come from the fleet, but there was no further sign that the direction and inquiries he continued to send out were ever received and decoded.
The gray dawn over the dark Atlantic waters had discovered the two fleets within full view of each other and with a lane of vacant water perhaps three miles broad between them. The intention of the two admirals had been to have a five-mile lane, but either there had been some error in reckoning on one side or the other, or else there had been encroachment by the minor craft. Ahead, under the skirts of the flying night were strata of fog which veiled the sea to the west. Each admiral, though still hopeful of peace, had spent every moment since the fleets became aware of one another in urgent preparation for action. The battleships on either side were steaming line ahead with rather more than sufficient space to manoeuvre between them. The Colorado was heading the American line followed by the Maryland and West Virginia; then, a little nearer the British, the Idaho, Mississippi, and New Mexico followed, and after them the California and at least seven other battleships. These three groups were all prepared to wheel round into a battle formation of three columns. In each case the battle cruisers were following the battleships; the Hood was the tail ship of the British, and the aircraft ships were steaming under cover of the battleships on the outer side. Beyond them were light cruiser squadrons. The two main lines of warships were perhaps a little more than five miles apart. Nearer in were the flotillas of destroyers and special torpedo craft held like hounds on a leash and ready at an instant’s signal to swing round, rush across the intervening space, and destroy or perish. Submarines were present on the outer verge of the fleets awaiting instructions. The British seem also to have had special mine layers in reserve for their contemplated operations on the American coast. The airplane carriers were tensely ready to launch their air squadrons and made a second line behind the screen of battleships and battle cruisers.
As the light increased, the opaque bank of fog ahead began to break up into fluffy masses and reveal something blue and huge beyond. Shapes appeared hunched like the backs of monstrous beasts, at first dark blue, and then with shining streaks that presently began to glitter. A line of icebergs, tailing one after the other in receding symmetry, lay athwart the course of the British fleet and not four miles from the head of that great column. They emerged from the fog garment like a third Armada, crossing the British path and hostile to the British. It was as if the spirit of the Arctic had intervened on the American side. They made the advancing leviathans look like little ships. To the British battle fleet they were suddenly as plain and menacing as a line of cliffs, but it is doubtful whether Admiral Semple ever knew of their existence.
Perhaps Greig should have informed Semple of this unexpected obstacle. Perhaps there should have been a discussion. It is so easy to sit in a study and weigh possibilities and probabilities and emerge with the clearest demonstration of the right thing he ought to have done. What he actually did was to issue a general order to the fleet to change direction two points to the south. He probably never realized that these huge ice masses were almost invisible to the American fleet and that his change of direction was certain to be misunderstood. It must have seemed perfectly reasonable to him that the Americans should make a corresponding swerve. So far it had been for him to choose the direction. To the American admiral, on the other hand, quite unaware of the ice ahead, this manoeuvre could have borne only one interpretation. The British, he thought, were swinging round to fight.
Perhaps he too should have attempted a further parley. What he did was to fire a shot from one of his six-pounders across the bows of the Rodney. Then he paused as if interrogatively.
Just one small intense flash of light, pricking through the cold tones of the dawn, the little hesitating puff of dense whirling smoke just beginning to unfold, the thud of the gun — and then that pause. It was as if a little thing had occurred and nothing else had altered.
Each admiral must have been torn most abominably between the desire to arrest a conflict and the urgent necessity of issuing final orders for attack. It is good to have the best of arguments, but if battle is to ensue it is of supreme importance to strike the first blow. No one now will ever know if at this stage there was any further attempt on the part of either admiral to say anything, one to the other.
All the survivors speak of that pause, but no one seems able to say whether it lasted for seconds or minutes. For some appreciable length of time, at any rate, these two arrays of gigantic war machines converged upon each other without another shot. For the most part the doomed thousands of their crews must have been in a mood of grim horror at the stupendous thing they were doing.
Who knows? There may have been an exaltation. The very guns seemed to sniff the situation incredulously with their lifted snouts. With a whir the first aeroplanes took the air and rose to swoop. Then the Maryland let fly at the two most advanced of the British destroyers with all her available smaller guns and simultaneously in a rippling fringe of flashes both lines exploded in such an outbreak of thudding and crashing gunfire as this planet had never witnessed before.
The inevitable had arrived. America and Britain had prepared for this event for ten long years; had declared it could never happen and had prepared for it incessantly. The sporting and competitive instincts of the race had been inflamed in every possible way to develop a perverted and shuddering impulse to this conflict. Yet there may have been an element of amazement still, even in the last moments of Greig and Semple. Imagination fails before those last moments, whether it was rending, cutting, or crushing metal, jetting steam or swirling water that seized and smashed and stamped or scalded the life out of their final astonishment.
The Colorado had caught the convergent force of the Rodney and the Royal Sovereign; she was hit by their simultaneous salvoes; her armour must have been penetrated at some vital spot, and she vanished in a sheet of flame that roared up to heaven and changed into a vast pillar of smoke. The Rodney, her chief antagonist, shared her ill luck. The sixteen-inch guns of the Colorado and Maryland had ripped her behind, something had happened to her steering gear; without any loss of speed she swept round in a curve, and the Royal Sovereign, plastered and apparently blinded by the second salvoes of the Maryland, struck her amidships with a stupendous crash. An air torpedo, some witnesses declare, completed her disaster. But that is doubtful. The American aircraft certainly got into action very smartly, but not so quickly as all that. The Rodney, say eyewitnesses, seemed to sit down into the water and then to tilt up, stern down, her futile gun turrets towering high over the Royal Sovereign, and her men falling from her decks in a shower as she turned over and plunged into the deeps just clear of the latter ship.
A huge upheaval of steaming water lifted the Royal Sovereign by the bows and thrust her aside as though she were a child’s toy. Her upreared bows revealed the injuries she had received in the collision. As she pitched and rolled over the ebullitions of the lost Rodney, the Maryland pounded her for the second time. Her bruised and battered gunners were undaunted. Almost immediately she replied with all her eight big guns, and continued to fight until suddenly she rolled over to follow the flagship to the abyss. Down the British line the Warspite was also in flames and the Hood, very badly ripped and torn by a concentration from the Arizona, Oklahama, and Nevada, had had a series of explosions. The Idaho also was on fire.
So this monstrous battle began. After the first contact all appearance of an orderly control disappeared. To get into battle formation the main squadrons had to swing round so as to penetrate the enemy force, and so even this primary movement was never completed. Further combined tactical operations there were none. The rapid cessation of command is a necessary feature of modern marine fighting. The most ingenious facilities for adjusted movement become useless after the first impact. Controls are shot away, signalling becomes an absurdity, and the fight enters upon its main, its scrimmage phase, in which weight tells and anything may happen. The two lines of battleships, already broken into three main bunches, were now clashing into each other and using every gun, each ship seeking such targets as offered and doing its best by timely zigzagging to evade the torpedo attacks that came dashing out of the smoke and confusion. The minor craft fought their individual fights amidst the battleships, seeking opportunities to launch their torpedoes, and soon a swarm of aeroplanes released from the carriers were whirring headlong through the smoke and flames. The temperament and tradition of both navies disposed them for attack and infighting, and no record of shirking or surrender clouds the insane magnificence of that tragic opening.
Never before had the frightful power of modern guns been released at such close quarters. These big ships were fighting now at distances of two miles or less; some were in actual contact. Every shell told. For the first time in the twentieth century battleships were rammed. The Royal Oak ran down the Tennessee, the two ships meeting almost head on but with the advantage for the Royal Oak, and the Valiant was caught amidships by the New Mexico, which herself, as she prepared to back out of her victim, was rammed broadside on by the Malaya. All these three latter ships remained interlocked and rotating, fighting with their smaller armaments until they sank, and a desperate attempt to board the New Mexico was made from both British battleships. “Fire your guns as often as possible at the nearest enemy” had become the only effective order. “Let go your torpedo at the biggest enemy target.”
The battle resolved itself slowly into a series of interlocked and yet separate adventures. Smoke, the smoke of the burning ships and of various smoke screens that had been released by hard-pressed units, darkened the sky and blocked out regions of black fog. A continuous roar of crashing explosions, wild eruptions of steam and water, flashes of incandescence and rushes of livid flame made a deafening obscurity through which the lesser craft felt their way blindly to destroy or be destroyed. As the sun rose in the heavens and a golden day shot its shafts into the smoke and flames the long line of the first battle was torn to huge warring fragments from which smoke and steam poured up to the zenith. The battleships and battle cruisers still in action had separated into groups; the Queen Elizabeth, the Barham, and the Warspite, which had got its fires under control, fought, for example, an isolated action with the Pennsylvania and the Mississippi round the still burning and sinking Idaho. The three British ships had pushed right through the American line, taking their antagonists with them as they did so, and this circling conflict drifted far to the south of the original encounter before its gunfire died away and the battered and broken combatants followed each other to the depths. The huge American aircraft carrier, the Saratoga, was involved in this solemn and monstrous dance of death; her decks were swept by a hurricane of fire, and she could no longer give any aid to her aeroplanes, but she made such remarkably good use of her eight-inch guns that she alone survived this conflict. She was one of the few big ships still afloat in the afternoon, and she had then nearly a thousand rescued men aboard of her. Most of the airmen, after discharging their torpedoes, circled high above the battle until their fuel gave out, and then they came down and were drowned. One or two got on to the icebergs. The West Virginia, thrusting to the west of the Royal Sovereign group, struck one of these icebergs and sank later. The Revenge and Resolution, frightfully damaged but still keeping afloat, found themselves towards midday cut off from the main fight by ice and were unable to re-engage.
After the first shock of the encounter between the giant ships the rôle of the destroyer flotillas became more and more important. They fought often in a black and suffocating fog and had to come to the closest quarters to tell friends from enemies. They carried on fierce battles among themselves and lost no chance of putting in a torpedo at any larger ship that came their way.
The torpedoes of the aircraft showed themselves particularly effective against the light cruisers. They were able to get above the darknesses of the battle and locate and identify the upper works of their quarries. They would swoop down out of the daylight unexpectedly, and no anti-aircraft guns were able to do anything against them. The Nevada, it is said, was sunk by a British submarine, but there is no other evidence of submarine successes in the fight. It is equally probable that she was destroyed by a floating mine — for, incredible as it seems, some floating mines were released by a British mine carrier.
No one watched that vast fight as a whole; no one noted how the simultaneous crashes of the first clash, that continuing fury of sound, weakened to a more spasmodic uproar. Here and there would be some stupendous welling up of smoke or steam, some blaze of flame, and then the fog would grow thin and drift aside. Imperceptibly the energy of the conflict ebbed. Guns were still firing, but now like the afterthoughts of a quarrel and like belated repartees. The reddish yellow veils of smoke thinned out and were torn apart. Wide spaces of slowly heaving sea littered with rocking débris were revealed. Ever and again some dark distorted bulk would vanish and leave a dirty eddy dotted with struggling sailors, that flattened out to a rotating oily smudge upon the water.
By three in the afternoon the battle was generally over. By half-past three a sort of truce had established itself, a truce of exhaustion. The American flag was still flying over a handful of battered shipping to the southwest, and the British remnant was in two groups, separated by that fatal line of icebergs. These great frozen masses drifted slowly across the area of the battle, glassy and iridescent in the brilliant daylight, with streams of water pouring down their flanks. On one of them were two grounded aeroplanes and at the water-line they had for fenders a fringe of dead or dying men in life belts, fragments of boats and suchlike battle flotsam.
This huge cold intervention was indubitably welcome to the now exhausted combatants. Neither side felt justified in renewing the conflict once it had broken off. There is no record who fired the last shot nor when it was fired.
And so the Battle of the North Atlantic came to its impotent conclusion. It had not been a battle in any decisive sense, but a collision, a stupendous and stupendously destructive cannonade. Fifty-two thousand men, selected and highly trained human beings in the prime of life, had been drowned, boiled to death, blown to pieces, crushed, smashed like flies under a hammer, or otherwise killed, and metallurgical and engineering products to the value of perhaps five hundred million pounds sterling and representing the toil and effort of millions of workers had been sent to the bottom of the sea. Two British battleships and three American were all in the way of capital ships that emerged afloat, and the losses of light cruisers and minor craft had been in equal or greater proportion. But, at any rate, they had done what they were made to do. The utmost human ingenuity had been devoted to making them the most perfect instruments conceivable for smashing and destroying, and they had achieved their destiny.
At last the wireless signals from home could penetrate to the minds of the weary and sickened combatants. They found themselves under orders to cease fire and make for the nearest base.
That was in fact what they were doing. The Revenge and the Resolution accompanied by the cruisers Emerald and Enterprise and a miscellaneous flotilla, all greatly damaged and in some cases sinking, were limping on their way to Halifax. The airplane carrier Courageous, with a retinue of seaplanes and an escort of seven destroyers had turned about to the Clyde. To the south the American survivors, in unknown force, were also obeying urgent wireless instructions to withdraw. Acting under directions from their respective admiralties, a number of the still fairly seaworthy craft, including the Saratoga, the Effingham, the Frobisher, the Pensacola, and the Memphis, all flying white flags above their colours, were engaged in salvage work among the flotsam of the battle. There was no cooperation in this work between the British and Americans. And no conflict. They went about their business almost sluggishly, in a mood of melancholy fatigue. Emotion was drained out of them. For a time chivalry and patriotism were equally extinct. There are tales of men weeping miserably and mechanically, but no other records of feeling. There were many small craft in a sinking condition to be assisted, and a certain number of boats and disabled seaplanes. There were men clinging to the abundant wreckage, and numbers of exhausted men and corpses still afloat.
The surviving admirals, captains, and commanders, as message after message was decoded, realized more and more plainly that there had been a great mistake. The battle had been fought in error, and they were to lose no time in breaking off and offering, as the British instructions had it, “every assistance possible to enemy craft in distress.” It was a confusing change from the desperate gallantry of the morning.
There was some doubt as to the treatment of enemy men and material thus salvaged, but ultimately they were dealt with as captures and prisoners of war. This led later to much bitter recrimination.
The comments of these various surviving admirals, captains, and commanders, all now fatigued and overwrought men, and many of them experiencing the smart and distress of new wounds, as they set their battered, crippled, and bloodstained ships to these concluding tasks, make no part of this narrative; nor need we dwell upon their possible reflections upon the purpose of life and the ways of destiny as they had been manifested that day. Many of them were simple men, and it is said that battle under modern conditions, when it does not altogether destroy or madden, produces in the survivors a sort of orgiastic cleansing of the nerves. What did they think? Perhaps they did not think, but just went on with their job in its new aspect.
It is to be noted, perhaps, that before nightfall some of the ships’ crews on both sides were already beginning what was to prove an endless discussion, no doubt of supreme importance to mankind, which side could be said to have “won” the Battle of the North Atlantic. They had already begun to arrange and to collaborate in editing their overcharged and staggering memories . . . .
Amazement was going round the earth. Not only in London and New York, but wherever men were assembled in cities the news produced a monstrous perturbation. As night followed daylight round the planet an intense excitement kept the streets crowded and ablaze. Newspapers continued to print almost without intermission as fresh news came to hand, and the wireless organizations flooded the listening world with information and rumour. The British and Americans, it became clearer and clearer, had practically destroyed each other’s fleets; they had wiped each other off the high seas. What would happen next, now that these two dominating sea powers were withdrawn from the international balance? The event was dreadful enough in itself, but the consequences that became apparent beyond it, consequences extraordinarily neglected hitherto, were out of all proportion more stupendous and menacing for mankind.
All life has something dreamlike in it. No percipient creature has ever yet lived in stark reality. Nature has equipped us with such conceptions and delusions as survival necessitated, and our experiences are at best but working interpretations. Nevertheless, as they diverge more and more from practical truth and we begin to stumble against danger, our dearest dreams are at last invaded by remonstrances and warning shadows. And now this dream that was the life of the Lord Paramount was changing; more and more was it discoloured by doubt and adverse intimations.
He had taken hold of power with an absolute confidence. Mr. Parham talking to an undergraduate had never been more confident than the Lord Paramount evicting Parliament. His task then was to have been the restoration of the enduring traditions of human life to their predominance. His rôle had been the godlike suppression of rebellious disorders. By insensible degrees his confidence had been undermined by the growing apprehension of the greatness and insidiousness of the forces of change against which he was pitted. The logic of events had prevailed. He was still convinced of the rightness of his ideas but the godlike rôle had shrunken to the heroic.
The Battle of the North Atlantic had been the decisive accident to shatter his immediate vision of a British Empire rejuvenescent and triumphant, crowning the processes of history and recognizing him as its heaven-appointed saviour. He had to begin over again and lower down, and for a time at least at a disadvantage.
Blow upon blow rained upon him after that opening day of calamity. First came the tale of disaster from the battle itself: this great battleship lost, that cruiser on fire, a score of minor craft missing. At first both Britain and America accepted the idea of defeat, so heavy on either side was the list of losses. Then followed the relentless unfolding of consequences. The Dominions, with a harsh regard for their own welfare, were standing out. Canada had practically gone over to the United States and was treating for a permanent bond. South Ireland was of course against him; a republican coup d’état had captured Dublin, and there was already bloody and cruel fighting on the Ulster border; South Africa declared for neutrality, and in some of the more Dutch districts Union Jacks had been destroyed; Bengal was afire, and the council of Indian princes had gone over en bloc from their previous loyalty to a declaration of autonomy. They proposed to make peace with Russia, deport English residents, and relieve the Empire of further responsibility in the peninsula. It was appalling to consider the odds against that now isolated garrison.
The European combinations of the Lord Paramount had collapsed like a house of cards. The long projected alliance of Paramuzzi with Germany against France, which had failed to materialize so long as the German republic had held and so long as the restraining influence of Anglo–Saxondom had been effective, was now an open fact. For all practical purposes America, Great Britain, Russia, were all now for an indefinite time removed from the chessboard of Europe, and the ancient and obvious antagonism round about the Alpine massif were free to work themselves out. Europe was Rhineland history again. An unhoped for revanche offered itself, plainly and clearly to the German people, and the accumulated resentment of ten years of humiliation and frustration blazed to fury. Von Barheim’s once doubtful hold upon power lost any element of doubt. He was hailed as a reincarnation of Bismarck, and in a day Germany became again the Germany of blood and iron that had dominated Europe from 1871 to 1914. Liberalism and socialism were swamped by patriotism and vanished as if they had never been.
Within three days of the Battle of the North Atlantic nearly the whole of Europe was at war, and the French were clamouring for the covenanted British support upon their left wing as they advanced into Germany. The French fleet was quite able now to keep the vestiges of America’s naval forces out of European waters, and there was also the threat of Japan to turn American attention westward. Hungary had lost no time in attacking Roumania; Czecho–Slovakia and Yugo–Slavia had declared for France, Spain had mounted guns in the mountains commanding Gibraltar and became unpleasant to British shipping, and only Poland remained ambiguously under arms and at peace, between a threatening Russia on the east, dangerous Slav states to the south, a Germany exasperated on the score of Danzig and Silesia, and both Latvia and Lithuania urging grievances. The windows of the Polish Embassy in Paris suffered for this ambiguity.
There were pogroms in Hungary and Roumania. Indeed, all over eastern Europe and nearer Asia, whatever the political complexion of the government might be, the population seemed to find in pogroms a release of mental and moral tension that nothing else could give.
Turkey, it became evident, was moving on Bagdad, and a revolt in Damascus seemed to prelude a general Arab rising against France, Britain, and the Jewish state in Palestine. Both Bulgaria and Greece mobilized; Bulgaria, it was understood, was acting in concert with Hungary but Greece as ever remained incalculable. Public opinion in Norway was said to be violently pro-American and in Sweden and Finland pro-German, but none of these states took overt military action.
The inertias of British foreign policy were tremendous.
“We hold to our obligations,” said the Lord Paramount, sleepless, white, and weary, and sustained at last only by the tonics of Sir Titus, but still battling bravely with the situation. “We take the left wing in Belgium.”
“We take the left wing in Belgium.”
It was an admission of failure; it was the acceptance of a new situation. In the original scheme for world warfare that the Lord Paramount had laid before the Council of the British Empire, he had dismissed the possibility of fighting in western Europe. He had seen his war east of the Vistula and Danube and with its main field in Asia. He had trusted unduly to the wisdom and breadth of view of both America and the European chancelleries. And consequently, in spite of a certain insistence from Gerson, he had troubled very little about the novel possibilities of air war at home. Now, hard upon the heels of the naval tragedy, came the new war in the air.
The land war on the European frontiers made little progress after the first French advance into Westphalia. The Franco–Italian front was strongly fortified on either side, and the numerous and varied mechanisms of the reconstituted British army had still to come into action. There had been some miscalculation about the transport needed to put them across the Channel. But every power now possessed huge air forces, and there was nothing to prevent their coming into action forthwith. The bombing of London, Paris, Hamburg, and Berlin with high explosives occurred almost simultaneously. The moon was just entering upon its second quarter; the weather all over the Northern Hemisphere was warm and serene, and everything favoured this offensive.
Night after night, for fifteen days, the air of Europe was filled with the whir of gigantic engines and the expectation of bursting bombs. The fighting planes kept each other busy; anti-aircraft guns were a disappointment, and all the great centres of population seethed with apprehensions and nervous distresses that might at any time explode in senseless panics. The early raiders used only high explosives. The conventions were observed. But everywhere there was a feeling that these explosive and incendiary raids were merely experimental preludes to the dreaded gas attacks.
There was a press agitation in London for “Gas masks for everyone” and a strong discussion of the possibilities of the use of “anti-gases.” The London authorities issued exhortations to the people to keep calm, and all theatres, music halls, and cinemas were closed to prevent nocturnal congestions of the central districts. Millions of masks were issued, most of them of very slight efficiency, but they served to allay panic, and indeed no alleged precaution was too absurd for that purpose.
Gerson, looking ahead, removed as much as he could of the establishment of the government headquarters to a series of great gas-proof dugouts he had prepared at Barnet, but for a time the Master clung to his rooms in the War Office and would not resort to this concealment. Gerson protested in vain. “But,” said the Lord Paramount, “Whitehall is Empire. To be driven underground in this fashion is already half defeat.”
One night a rumour gained conviction as it spread until it became an absolute assurance, that gas was on its way and gas in monstrous quantities. There followed a reign of terror in the East End of London and a frantic exodus into Essex and the West End. The Germans used incendiary shells that night, and there were horrible scenes in the streets as the fire engines fought their way through the westward streaming crowds. Hundreds of cases of people who were crushed and trampled upon reached the hospitals, and the bombs and the fires accounted for thousands more.
The Lord Paramount was asked to visit the hospitals. “Can’t the Royal Family do that?” he asked almost irritably, for he hated the spectacle of suffering. His heart quailed at the thought of that vista of possibly reproachful sufferers. And then, changing a tone which jarred even on his own sensibilities: “I will not seem to infringe upon the popularity of the reigning house. The people will rather see them than me, and I have my hands full — full! — my God, full to overflowing.”
Mrs. Pinchot understood, she understood entirely, but the general public, which has no sense of the limitations of the time and energy of its leaders, interpreted this preoccupation with duty as an inhuman rather than superhuman characteristic and made its interpretation very plain and audible. It became clearer and clearer to the Lord Paramount that destiny had not marked him for a popular leader. He tried to steel his heart to that disappointment, but the pain was there. For his heart was as tender as it was great.
Gerson greeted the crescendo of the air attacks with unconcealed satisfaction.
“They’re getting it in Paris worse than we are,” he said. “Those German incendiary bombs are amazing, and nerves are all out. They’re talking of reprisals on the population in Westphalia. Good! Rome got it too last night. It’s this sort of thing the Italians can’t stand. They feel too much. They may turn on Paramuzzi in a frenzy if we just keep on at them. But, trust me, nothing could be better to wake up our own people. They’ll begin to snarl presently. The British bulldog hasn’t begun to fight yet. Wait till its blood is up.”
The ugly mouth closed with an appreciative snap.
“The only possible reply to these German incendiaries is Gas L. And the sooner we get to that the better. Then the world will see.”
But the common man in Britain was not being the British bulldog of General Gerson’s hopes. He was declining to be a bulldog altogether. He was remaining a profoundly skeptical human being, with the most disconcerting modern tendencies. And much too large a part of his combative energy was directed, not against the appointed enemy, but against the one commanding spirit which could still lead him to victory.
The Decree of Public Safety was now the law of the land. It might not be strictly constitutional, but the dictatorship had superseded constitutionalism. Yet everywhere it was being disputed. The national apathy was giving place to a resistance as bold as it was dogged. North, east, and west there were protests, remonstrances, overt obstruction. The recalcitrant workers found lawyers to denounce the Lord Paramount’s authority, funds to organize resistance. Half the magistrates in the country were recusant and had to be superseded by military courts. Never had the breach between the popular mind and the imperial will of the directive and possessing classes been so open and so uncompromising. It was astounding to find how superficial loyalty to the Empire had always been.
The distress of the Lord Paramount at these tensions was extreme. “My English,” he said. “My English. My English have been misled.” He would stand with a sheaf of reports from the mobilization department in his hand repeating, “I did not count on this.”
It needed all the most penetrating reminders of which Gerson was capable to subdue that heroically tender heart to the stern work of repression. And yet, just because the Lord Paramount had stood aside and effaced himself in that matter of the hospitals he was misjudged, and his repressive measures were understood to be the natural expression of a fierce and arrogant disposition. The caricaturists gave him glaring and projecting eyes and a terrible row of teeth. They made his hands — and really they were quite shapely hands — into the likeness of gesticulating claws. That was a particularly cruel attack. “I must be strong,” he repeated to himself, “and later they will understand.”
But it is hard for a patriot to be stark and strong with his own misguided people. Riots had to be dispersed with bayonets and rifle-fire in the south of Wales, in Lancashire and the Midlands. There was savage street fighting in Glasgow. The tale of these domestic casualties lengthened. The killed were presently to be counted by the hundred. “Nip the trouble in the bud,” said Gerson. “Arrest the agitators and shoot a few of them, if you don’t like firing on crowds. Over half the country now time is being lost and the drafts delayed.”
So those grim sedition clauses which had looked so calmly heroic on paper were put into operation. The military authorities arrested vigorously. A few old hands were caught in the net but even before the court-martials were held it was apparent to the Lord Paramount that for the most part they were dealing with excitable youths and youngish men. Most of these younger agitators would have been treated very indulgently indeed if they had been university students. But Gerson insisted upon the need of a mental shock for the whole country. “Shoot now,” he said, “and you may forgive later. War is war.”
“Shoot now,” said Gerson, “and the rest will come in for training, good as gold. Stop the rot. And let ’em say what they like about you.”
The Lord Paramount could feel how tenderly and completely that faithful secretary of his could read the intimations of his saddened and yet resolute profile. “Yes,” he admitted, “we must shoot — though the bullet tears us on its way.”
The order went forth.
There was a storm of remonstrances, threats, and passionate pleas for pity. That was to have been expected. Much was fended off from direct impact upon the Lord Paramount, but he knew the protest was there. It found an echo in his own too human heart. “The will of a great people,” he said, “must override these little individual stories. There is this boy Carrol from Bristol they are asking me to reprieve! There seems to be a special fuss about him. A sort of boy scholar of promise — yes. But read the poison of those speeches he made! He struck an officer . . . .”
“Shall Carrol die?” asked an outbreak of placards along Whitehall that no one could account for. That hardened the Lord Protector’s mouth; he must show he would not be bullied, and in stern response to that untimely challenge young Carrol and five and thirty associates died at dawn.
There was a hideous popular clamour at this unavoidable act of war. The Lord Paramount’s secretarial organization was far too new and scanty to protect him adequately from the clamour of this indignation and, it may be, something in himself acted as an all too ready receiver for these messages of antagonism. Abruptly out of the void into which he was wont to vanish appeared Sir Bussy the unquenchable. He was now almost full size again and confident and abrupt in his prewar style.
“This shooting of boys!” he said. “This killing of honest and straightforward people who don’t agree with you! Why, damn it! we might be in Italy! It’s a century out of date. Why did you ever let this war get loose?”
The Lord Paramount stood defensively mute, and it was Gerson who took the word out of his mouth and answered Sir Bussy. “Have you never even heard of discipline? Have you never heard of the needs of war? I tell you we are at war.”
“But why are we at war?” cried Sir Bussy. “Why the devil are we at war?”
“What the devil are fleets and armies for if we are never to use them? What other ways are there for settling national differences? What’s a flag for if you’re never going to wave it? I tell you, it’s not only street-corner boys and Bolshie agitators who are going against the wall. This Empire of ours is fighting for its life. It calls on every man. And you know as well as I know, Sir Bussy, what it needs to win. . . . And at what a pace the stuff is coming in!” . . .
Gerson had turned to the Lord Paramount, and Sir Bussy, it seemed, was no longer present.
“Peace time you may be as soft as you like — delay and humbug have always been the rule for home politics, naturally — but you can’t play about with war and foreign policy. For things of that order you need a heart of steel.”
“A heart of steel,” echoed the Lord Paramount.
“Gas L and a heart of steel.”
“We go through with it, mon général,” said the Lord Paramount. “Trust me.”
“Time we started going through with it . . . .”
What was far more distressing to the Lord Paramount than any other resistances or remonstrances over this business of internal discipline was the emergence from nothingness of a certain old lady, old Mrs. Carrol. Against addresses, protests, demonstrations, threats of murder, and the like, the Lord Paramount could be the strongest of strong men, could show a face of steely disregard. But old Mrs. Carrol was different. Her attack was different in its nature. She did not threaten, she did not abuse. Carrol, it seemed, had been an only son. She wanted him alive again.
She came like a sudden thought into his presence. She was exactly like an old woman lodge-keeper at Samphore Park, near Mr. Parham’s early home. That old woman, whose name was long since forgotten, had had an only son also, three or four years older than the juvenile Parham, and he had worked in the garden of Mr. Parham’s father. Always he had been known as Freddy. He had been a very friendly, likable boy, and the two youngsters had been great friends and allies. He read books and told stories, and once he had confided a dreadful secret to his companion. He was half minded to be a socialist, he was, and he didn’t believe not mor’n half the Bible was true. They had had an argument, a quarrel, for it was young Parham’s first meeting with sedition, and duty and discipline were in his blood. But of course it was impossible there could be any identity between this long-forgotten rustic and young Carrol. By now he would be old enough to be young Carrol’s father.
It was a little difficult to trace how this old lady got at the Lord Paramount. She seemed to have great penetrating power. His staff ought perhaps to have fended her off. But the same slight distrust of those about him, that sense of the risk of “envelopment,” which made the Lord Paramount desire to be as “accessible” as possible to the generality, left just the sort of opening through which a persistent old woman of that kind might come. At any rate, there she was, obliterating all the rest of the case, very shabby and with a careworn face and a habit of twisting one hand round inside the other as she spoke, extraordinarily reminiscent of Freddy’s mother.
“When people go to war and get boys shot and the like, they don’t think a bit what it means to them they belongs to, their mothers and such, what have given their best years to their upbringing.
“He was a good boy,” she insisted, “and you had him shot. He was a good SKILFUL boy.”
She produced a handful of paper scraps from nowhere and held them out, quivering, to the Lord Paramount. “Here’s some of the little things he drew before he went into the works. Why, I’ve seen things by royalties not half so good as these! He didn’t ought to have been shot, clever as he was. Isn’t there anything to be done about it?
“And when he got older he had a meccano set, and he made a railway signal with lights that went on and off, and the model of a windmill that went round when you blew it. No wonder he was welcome in the works. I’d have brought them here for you to see if I’d thought they would have weighed with you. You’d have marvelled. And now he won’t never make anything more with his hands, and those busy little brains of his are still as stone.”
There is no record that Alexander or Cæsar or Napoleon was haunted by an old woman who kept on twisting her hands about as though she were trying to wring the blood out of a deed that was done, and who sought to temper her deadly persistence by a pose of imploration. Almost she cringed.
“You don’t understand, my good woman,” said the Lord Paramount, “He put his brains to a bad use. He was a mutineer. He was a rebel.”
The old lady would have none of that. “Artie wasn’t ever a rebel. Don’t I know it? Why, when he was little I was frightened at his goodness, always so willing, he was and so helpful. I’ve thought time after time, for all his health and spirits, ‘That boy must be ailing,’ so good he was to me . . . .
“And now you’ve shot him. Can’t anything else be done about it still? Can’t something be done instead?”
“This crucifies me,” he said to Mrs. Pinchot. “This crucifies me.”
That made him feel a little better for a time, but not altogether better. “All things,” he said, “I must suffer in my task,” and still was not completely convinced. He descended from his cross. He tried to be angry. “Damn old Mrs, Carrol! Can no one make that old woman understand that War is War? This is no place for her. She must be stopped from coming here.”
But she continued to come, nevertheless; though her coming had less and less the quality of a concrete presence and more and more of the vague indefinable besetting distressfulness of a deteriorating dream.
The Great War of 1914–18 had not only been the greatest war in history, it had also been the greatest argument about war that had ever stormed through the human mind. The Fourteen Points of President Wilson, the vague, unjustifiable promises of Crewe House to a repentant Germany, had been more effective than any battle. And now this great war the Lord Paramount had launched was taking on the same quality of an immense and uncontrollable argument.
In the long run man will be lost or saved by argument, for collective human acts are little more than arguments in partial realization.
And now that strange mixture of forward-reaching imagination, hardy enterprise, exalted aims, and apparently inseparable cynicism which makes the American character a wonder and perplexity for the rest of mankind was to become the central reality of the Lord Paramount’s mind.
The argument was given definite form by an entirely characteristic American action on the part of the President. He issued a declaration, which was to be known in history as the Declaration of Washington, in which, illogically enough since his country was at war, he proposed to decline any further fighting. America, he said, was not too proud but too sane to continue the conflict. He did not add, the Lord Paramount remarked, as he might have done, that the Battle of the North Atlantic had left her quite incapable for a time of any further effective intervention in Europe or Asia. Everything she had left she needed to watch Japan. But that factor in the question the President ignored — shamelessly. And he said things fellows like Hamp or Camelford or Atterbury might have said. He said things Sir Bussy would have cheered. He was the first head of a state to come out definitely on the side of the forces that are undermining and repudiating history.
This declaration of inaction, this abandonment of militant nationalism flew like an arrow athwart the Atlantic into the hands and into the mental storm of the Lord Paramount. The document presented itself a hasty duplicate from some transmitting machine, in smudged purple lettering, and he paced his bureau with it in his hand and read it aloud to his always faithful listener. An inner necessity obliged him to read it aloud, distasteful though it was in every line. This great denial was worded with that elaborate simplicity, that stiffly pompous austerity, which has long been the distinctive style of American public utterances.
“‘There has arisen suddenly out of the momentary failure of one young airman’s skill in Persia a great and terrible crisis in the affairs of the world. With an incredible rapidity the larger part of mankind has fallen again into warfare. The material of warfare stood ready to explode, and there was no other means sufficiently available to avert this collapse. All over our planet, beyond every precedent, men are now slaying and destroying. These United States have not been able to remain aloof. Already our battleships have fought and thousands of our sons have been killed, and were it not for the ingrained sanity upon our northern and southern boundaries, all this continent also would be aflame.
“‘Yet the fortunate position of our territories and our practical community of ideas with the great dominion to the north of us still holds us aloof from the extremer carnage. That and the naval strength that still remains to us, suffice to keep our homeland untouched by the daily and nightly horrors that now threaten civilian life in all the crowded cities of Europe and Asia. Our share in this work of devastation, as far as we are disposed to take a share, depends upon our willingness to attack. So far we have attacked and will attack only to stay the hand of the destroyer. It is still possible for the people of the American communities, almost alone now among all the communities of the world, to sleep soundly of nights, to spend days untroubled by the immediate sounds and spectacle of battle, to think and exchange thought with deliberation, and to consider the rights and possibilities of this tragic explosion of human evil. It is our privilege and our duty now to sit in judgment upon this frightful spectacle as no other people in the world can do.
“‘It would be easy — indeed, for some of us Americans it has already been too easy — to find in our present relative advantage the recognition of peculiar virtues, the reward of distinctive wisdom. I will not lend myself to any such unctuous patriotism. It is for the historians of a coming day to apportion the praise and blame among the actors in this world catastrophe. Perhaps no actors are guilty; perhaps they are impelled by forces greater than themselves to fulfil the rôles prepared for them; perhaps it is not men and nations but ideas and cultures that we should arraign. What matters now is that justly or unjustly we Americans have been favoured by fortune and granted unequalled privileges. We can serve the world now as no other people can do. In serving the world, we shall also serve ourselves. Upon us, if upon any people, has been bestowed, for the second and supreme occasion, the power of decision between world peace or world destruction.
“‘Let us, in no spirit of boasting or nationalistic pride, but with thankfulness and humility, consider the peculiar nature of these United States. In their political nature they are unlike anything that has ever existed before. They are not sovereign states as sovereign states are understood in any other part of the world. They were sovereign states, but they have ceded to a common federal government that much of their freedom that might have led to warfare. Not without dire distress and passion and bloodshed did our forefathers work out this continental peace. The practical and intellectual difficulties were very great. It was hard to determine what was of local and what of general concern. To this day many points remain debatable. On the issue whether our labour should be here bound and here free, we spilt the lives of a generation. We learnt that we must make all labour free forever if progress was to continue. Not always have we been wise and noble in our career. Much that we have learnt we have learnt in suffering and through error. Nevertheless, our huge community, year by year and generation by generation, since its liberty was won, has been feeling its way towards the conception of an enduring and universal peace, has been seeking by pacts and propaganda some way of organizing a permanent peace in the world. It has become our tradition so far as we can be said to have a tradition. No other great mass of human beings has ever had so clear and active a peace disposition as our consolidated peoples. To us warfare has become a thing unnecessary and horrible, as intolerable as many another harsh and frightful custom, horrible and unpardonable now as human sacrifice and as that holocaust of victims at a chieftain’s burial which once seemed integral to social life. We know, and have gone far to realize in fact, that the life of all human beings can be fearless and free.
“‘And if we have gone cautiously in our search for peace, avoiding above all things any entangling alliances with Powers organized on the militant pattern of the past, that separateness has not been because we, unmindful of our common humanity, were disposed to a selfish and sluggish isolation from the less happily circumstanced states of the Old World. It is rather because from our beginning and through the great wisdom of our chief founder Washington, we have been aware of the immense dangers that lurk in so mighty a proposition, so intricate and gigantic a project as world organization. It has been our steadfast determination that our naïve and ever-increasing strength should not be tricked into the service of Old World hates and Old World ambitions. From the utterances of President Wilson, through notes and memoranda and messages and conferences, to the days of the Kellogg Pact, the voice of America has been plainly for peace on earth and goodwill between all kinds of men.
“‘In the past twelve years we have experienced much, seen much, thought and discussed abundantly, and it becomes clearer and clearer in our minds, it is a matter now of common remark and agreement, that we must regard all states and governments of today merely as the trustees and temporary holders of power for that universal conciliation and rule to which all things are tending. Here, as the elected head of your federal government, I can say plainly that no man on earth whatever owes more than a provisional allegiance to the rulers he may find above him, and that his profounder, his fundamental loyalty, is to no flag or nation, but to mankind. I say this of our constitution and of our flag as of all other flags and constitutions. The frightful suffering, bloodshed, and destruction of this present moment call to every man to turn his mind and hopes towards that federal government of the world whose creation, steadfastly and speedily, is now the urgent task before our race. Such rulers and ministers as fail to subserve this coalescence now are, we declare, no less than traitors to their human blood, the traitor slaves of dead imaginations and superannuated organizations.
“‘And so we, the government and people of the United States, stand out of this warfare just as completely as it is possible for us to stand out of it, armed and watchful, seeking some form of intervention that will bring it to an end. We issue our invitations to all such powers as remain still hesitating and neutral in this confusion of hates, to gather in conference, a conference not simply now for treaties, promises, and declarations, but for the establishment forthwith of united activities and unified controls, that shall never cease from operation henceforth. And we appeal not only to sovereign states to realize this conception of which our people has become the guardian and exponent; we appeal to every free-minded individual man and woman in the world. We say to all and sundry, “Stand out of this warfare. Refuse to be belligerent. Withdraw your services, withdraw your resources.” We are honest and loyal in our endeavour, we are acting upon the accumulated resolve of a century and a half, and we call to you for a loyalty transcending flag or country. So far as we of these states can assist and support your action, without intensifying the bitterness of conflict, we will. Restrain your rulers. Give yourselves now to that possible Empire of Peace, in which we and you and all the life that stirs upon this planet may cooperate together.’”
The reader paused.
He took a deep breath, made three paces to the window, and turned. He held out the paper and patted it. “There it is,” he said. “It was bound to come. There it is, plain and clear — the bolt that has been gathering force and weight — the moral attack.”
He paced. “Propaganda with a vengeance. An attack on our morale more deadly than a thousand aeroplanes.”
He stopped short. “Was there ever such hypocrisy?” he demanded.
“Never,” said Mrs. Pinchot stoutly. “It’s revolting.”
“They pressed us with their fleet-building. They bullied and quarrelled when we were only too ready for acquiescent action. They Shylocked Europe. And then all this humanitarian virtue!”
Something seemed to twist round in the mind of the Lord Paramount, something that twisted round and struck at his heart. He could not maintain his indignant pose. This Presidential address suddenly allied itself with things that had lain dormant in his mind for weeks, things he associated with men like Camelford (and, by the bye, where on earth was Camelford?) and Sir Bussy. He stopped short in his pacing, with the typed copy of the address, held by one corner, dangling from his fingers.
“Suppose,” said the Lord Paramount, “it is not hypocrisy! Suppose he really means the things he has said here! In spite of his patriots.”
He stared at Mrs. Pinchot, and she was staring back at him.
“But how can he mean things that don’t mean anything?” She stuck to it loyally.
“But they DO mean something. They DO mean something. Even if they don’t mean it straight. Suppose this is humbug. I believe this is humbug. But humbug does not pretend to be something unless it pays to do so. There must be something to which it appeals. What is that something? What is that shapeless drive? Such history as I have ever taught or studied. A world without flags or nations. A sordid universal peace. The end of history. It’s in the air; it’s in the age. It is what Heaven has sent me to dispute and defeat. A delusion. A dream . . . .”
“Where am I?” said the Lord Paramount and passed his hand across his brow. “Who am I? . . . A delusion and a dream? One or other is a delusion — this new world or mine?”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:15