Address to Soldiers at Camp Dix
Front Cover, An Address to the Soldiers of the National Army by George W. Wickersham on Sunday, 30 September 1917. GGA Image ID # 186a4d4462
At the Dedication of the Morristown Y.M.C.A. Building, Camp Dix, Wrightstown, New Jersey..
Mr. Chairman, General Kennedy, Soldiers of the National Army:
I wonder if you guess how genuinely we, who are beyond the age of bearing arms, envy you who enjoy the privilege of being called to fight for your country in this titanic contest with the powers of darkness! Yours is the magnificent opportunity of youth. The older ones would gladly march with you.
As it is, we only can wish you Godspeed and applaud your going. It is fitting that you should gather here today under the auspices of the Young Men's Christian Association. You are all members of that body which has burst its bounds, for the entire youth of America has become the Young Men's Christian Association, banded together in defense of the ideals of America, the ideals of Christian civilization, against the attack of a power whose creed is that might alone makes right.
It is a war of Christianity against Paganism. You, the chosen representatives of the great American Christian Association, are preparing to go forth to destroy an enemy who fights without regard to any of the rules of humane warfare; who regards neither the white flag of truce nor the red cross of mercy; an enemy who employs every method of destroying life, whether of combatants or non-combatants, with every resource which perverted ingenuity or cunning science can devise—from Big Berthas to poisoned candies dropped from aero planes to tempt the children to their deaths.
Your cause is a holy cause. The German cause is that of devils. They precipitated the war upon unprepared Europe when they thought they were sure of victory. For years they had carefully, thoroughly, and efficiently prepared for the day when they should strike the blow that would make them masters of the world. But they neglected to reckon with God.
As James Russell Lowell says: "You've got to get up early, of you want to take in God." We know that violations of moral law are punished, but seldom in public or private life have there been such conspicuous examples of disaster following upon crime as Germany has furnished in this war. It is as if men could see the hand of God as a tangible force intervening to rob the oppressor of his prey.
The war was opened by the ruthless invasion of peaceful, prosperous, thrifty little Belgium, by that great military power that had solemnly pledged its national honor to protect it. That crime brought England into the war and upset all the plans of the German General Staff.
The Teuton hordes rolled across Belgium and Luxemburg on to the plains of sunny, fertile, peace-loving France, and the German General Staff, serene in its confidence of a victory which by all the rules of warfare was inevitable, met a defeat at the Marne as decisive as the overthrow of the Saracens by Charles the Hammer at Tours in the Eighth Century.
The hand of God was again visible, and the French call it the Miracle of the Marne. I have talked with plain, a matter of fact engineer officers of the French Army, and they say that by all the rules of warfare, the Germans should have won that battle.
One officer tells me that several times during the week of the series of conflicts known as the Battle of the Marne, the superiority of the German force and its perfect equipment and scientific direction must have given it the victory, but that for some reason, which neither then nor since could he understand, they did not avail of their opportunities, and at last the Teuton forces turned and fled to the Aisne.
Yet once more, the German autocrats, reckoning only with material science and blind to the dictates of common humanity, determined upon the indiscriminate use of the submarine against all vessels, armed or unarmed, whether of friend or foe,—ruthlessly, pitilessly sending men, women, and children to a sudden and awful death.
That brought America into the war against them. Again the hand of God reached out to chastise the people who had left Him out of their reckoning, in their pride of strength and resources and in the arrogance of their thought that in defiance of every principle of morality or right they could crush all nations and subjugate them to their will.
It was a double punishment to Germany when America, with her vast population and practically exhaustless resources, joined the Allies. For Russia at that moment was in the throes of revolution. She had ceased, for the time being, at least, to be of any value in aggressive warfare, and but for America, the disintegration of the Russian military power would have left Germany free to devote all her strength to the overcoming of her other foes.
With the advent of the United States in the war, however, the European Allies could, as they have done, fight with renewed vigor, without anxiety concerning the maintenance of their reserves, because the manhood of America is organizing the reserve force which when necessary will step into the places of the war-wearied forces of France and Italy and England.
You, therefore, who have been chosen from the youth of America, to form the first of the great armies she is preparing to send to the Battlefields of Europe, will enjoy the high privilege of showing the world on one of the greatest international theatres the quality of American manhood.
There are some things you can do over there; some things you cannot do. You can, and I am confident you will emulate the valor of the soldiers of our allies. You cannot hope to exceed it. The British and French troops in France and Flanders and the Italians on the Isonzo plateau have established new records of valor, higher perhaps than any that human history has recorded in the past.
In a sense, it may be said that this war has shown that courage is an almost universal human quality; but the unmurmuring acceptance of pain and suffering, the smiling courage in the face of certain death, the joyous surrender of self to country, which mark the morale of our allied troops, never have been excelled. You may do as well; no human beings could do better.
There is another respect in which you may emulate but cannot excel our allies, and that is in patriotism. The British love of country is great, although not vocal. The Italian gives himself unreservedly to Italy. But the burning sacrificial love of France, which is a part of the makeup of well-nigh every Frenchman, is the highest expression of patriotic devotion to country.
It is like the love of the son for his mother. The mothers of France hold in the hearts of their sons a place only second to that reserved for their country — their common mother. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, there occurred an act unprecedented in French history: a Marshal of France—Bazaine—surrendered to the enemy an important fortified city—Metz—without making a real defense.
When the war was over, he was tried for that act as treasonable. His defense was that when he surrendered, Emperor Napoleon had been taken prisoner; the armies of France were defeated; the country was in a state of chaos, and nothing remained to make further struggle defensible.
But a Royal Prince of the old Bourbon line, the Duke d'Aumale, who was a member of the court, sternly rebuked him, saying: "Mr. Marshal, you are wrong; France remained." Emperors and empires and governments may come and go, but to every true Frenchman France always remains; France, which is the inspiration to high endeavor and brave deeds; France, for whom all sacrifice of limb and life, ease and comfort, of house and home and wife and child, if need be, is gladly made.
All, you may well catch from the soldiers of France a new sense of the meaning of patriotism; a love of country which does not easily develop among the polyglot population of America, drawn as it is from every country in the world, with different antecedents, different traditions, different creeds, and varying standards.
One of the great results which I hope from this war is the development of a more ardent national spirit, the dawning of a vital national consciousness, the discovery of national unity. E Pluribus Unum is our national motto. May that one emerges from this struggle, higher, brighter, purer and stronger than ever before—a nation conscious of its power and its mission and its high destiny; one people with one national ideal, the ideal of right living and right thinking, "with malice towards none, with charity towards all."
But there is one respect in which you can set an example to the soldiers of Europe, and that is in the purity of life and decency of speech and conduct.
For I am firmly persuaded that if a hundred young men were picked up in France or Italy or England and contrasted with a hundred young Americans gathered haphazard from the streets of any American community, the American boys would average a higher standard of decency than any of the other groups.
There are certain things which may be done by young men of other countries that one simply cannot imagine an American lad doing. Here is a field in which you may establish your supremacy. Remember that every American soldier abroad is an Ambassador of his country.
No one can estimate the effect of the impression which by his conduct, bearing and speech he may make upon the people of the country where he may be.
The most ordinary common garden variety of individuals you meet may serve to transmit an impression of a character that may help or hurt your country at a critical moment.
So in maintaining the best American r principles of clean, decent thought and speech and act, you will be serving your country as truly as by courageously fighting its enemies.
I find in this morning's newspapers, Major French's rules of conduct for American soldiers. They are so good that I am going to read two of them.
Here they are:
Remember Edith Cavell, Belgium, Serbia, the Lusitania, Louvain, and the U-boats of the Hun, and, remembering Teuton savagery, barbarism, and atrocities, steel your heart against the ravishers of women, the murderers, and mutilators of children and noncombatants, the ruthless destroyers of homes, the Hounds-of-the-Hohenzollern, the bestial Boches.
Be merciful to the women of your foe and shame them not, for you are a man, not a beast, and a woman bore you. And pity and shield the children in your captured territory, for you were once a helpless child, and only a dastard makes war on the weak.
They sum up in cogent phrase much that I would say to you.
May your conduct be guided by such thoughts, and may you return to your native land and to your homes with the proud consciousness of having kept your honor untarnished, of having fought the good fight and kept the faith.