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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Letter to the American People
By John Galsworthy (1867–1933)
 
An open letter addressed to Senator Lodge on the
entry of the United States into the Great War

THE GREAT news from America moves me to this slight and inadequate expression of heartfelt thankfulness that we are now allies in deed as well as thought. The coming in of America and the Russian revolution, taken together, give one for the first time a feeling of reality and hope—not so much as to the material issue of the war, though it must greatly hasten victory, but of the achievement of great and lasting benefit for the world out of all this tragedy.  1
  In the early days of the struggle I thought “if only despotisms go down in the wreckage of this war, its horrors will not have been quite in vain,” and now for the first time one is able to believe that they will one and all go down, and democratic Europe be born. At last one is able to see some real chance for a league of democracies that shall seek peace and pursue it. That great saying, “The world must be made safe for democracy,” should now be the motto for us all, with its corollary that only in a world safe for democracy can peace be even reasonably secured.  2
  We owe to you and to Russia a renewed sense and coherence in our cause. The idealism which was and is implicit in that cause was oozing out under the bitter pressure of this endless struggle. Some of us were beginning to fear that in the end democracy would be forced to the continued use of autocratic militarism, even after the victory had been won; that we, conquering in substance, should be conquered in spirit, and the world set definitely spinning backward. That fear is at an end; the relief is intense. To you and to the Russian revolution we owe that relief in the certainty that the military caste of Germany is doomed.  3
  Many of ourselves, and a still greater number of Germans, especially of German writing men, contemptuously deny that there should be any dissociation of the German people from the German military caste. None the less your President was right in making that distinction. Here is a little true story:  4
  A Frenchwoman of the invaded countries is sleeping in a room with her two young daughters when the Germans enter their village. An officer knocks and demands lodging for thirty-five men. She shows him other rooms, stables—in fact plenty of accommodation.  5
  “That won’t do,” and he ordered seven men to sleep in the same room with the mother and the girls, but behind his back his men are shrugging their shoulders, as if saying: “This is quite unnecessary,” and when he is gone they leave the room of their own accord and go to the stables.  6
  The woman who was telling my informant this story added:  7
  “It is not the men who are bad. The men are like ours—the same everywhere. It is the officers, their chiefs—or rather it is their law.”  8
  It has been this discovery from the first days of the war, that their chiefs and their “law” are noxious in the modern world, that has turned so many of us humanitarians and peace lovers, who had not a speck of original ill-will to Germany, into believers that this “law”—this philosophy of death—must go down if the life of nations is to be again worth living.  9
  You stand with us now in the great task of seeing that it perishes. And out of our new-found brotherhood in arms—strange that this is the first time America and England have fought side by side in a big struggle—may not a wider friendliness be born between our countries?  10
  I know that many of us and many of you have for each other’s country the friendliest feelings; but a winter’s sojourn in France has shown me more clearly than ever before why there is not, as a rule, much love between you Americans and ourselves. We English lack the quickness and charm which makes of the French the people with whom all others can get on, or, at all events, put up with. We English have many good qualities, but, alas, our defects to outer eyes outweigh them. We are, I fear, rather an ungracious lot, and the more there is to a man—the more backbone he has—the more strongly this particular characteristic of ungraciousness comes out. Then, too, we are bone-competitive—and so are you. Two of that kidney never did agree too well.  11
  All the same, Britain and America, beneath all difference and disgruntlement, do really want much the same thing for the world. Both want liberty and life by the light of individual self-respect rather than by rules framed and hanging. Both want humanity of conduct, fair play, and peace. And wanting these things, it will be a million pities if the little present rubs and ranklings of history and your resentment of our “side” (which is generally mere gaucherie) of our stolidity and cocksureness, and our dislike of your superior talkativeness and hustle and your cocksureness, are to stay the growth of that true and deep comradeship which ought to lie between our nations.  12
  After all, nations are more than half made up of climate and geographical circumstances. What you are impatient of in us, what we are inclined to quiz in you, is little more than the result of our respective damp and drought and other conditions over which we have no control. If we persist in gazing at the shadows of our mutual discontents, what priceless substance we shall be missing! Failing a real understanding and friendship between us, the world will lose a great equilibristic force and be ever on the brink of trouble. The health and happiness, not only of our two nations, but of all others, will depend more and more as years go by on the union of our ideals, our feelings, and our wills.  13
  Back of all else is a certain majestic common sense in you Americans, and something not very dissimilar in ourselves. We may go on saying in an airy way that we can’t stand each other, but I trust and believe we shall find it ever harder to do without each other, ever easier to see that we are made for friendship in this imperfect world.  14
  Though I am sure that any edginess between us is far more an affair of manner than of anything else, that is not to suggest that our mutual intolerance is a trivial matter. On the contrary, I rather think that manner is the most potent of all causes for dislike, and I heartily wish we English could improve ours, for I think we are most to blame. Nations so rarely have a chance to dive below manner, and find out what lies beneath. The French have dived since the war began, and have found out they can tolerate us a little. Perhaps that chance has now arisen for America and England, and we are destined in the coming months to see each other as we really are—the Lord preserve us from finding out that we are worse than we thought.  15
  At all events, we both have a sense of humor. Let us seek in that the ointment for our sore places. There is no need to take the outward and visible sign of the Englishman too seriously. I was told in France of one of your pro-Ally compatriots who, watching some English officers coming down the steps of a certain famous building not long ago, exclaimed: “I can’t ‘see’ these fellows!” I feel I know exactly what he meant; but under all that he couldn’t “see” there is a fundamental something that most of you Americans would put out a hand to.  16
  I hope we may soon be in some tight places, side by side; then we shall know, perhaps, that we might have smiled at each other’s follies instead of being sore. Where two races have grit and humanity and humor they are brothers under the skin, and that this shall be made plain before the world is a year older I devoutly trust, and so, I hope and think, my dear Senator, do you.  17
  At any rate, the ardent thoughts and good will of the Englishman who writes these words go out to you and to your great country at this hour, which for you all must be fraught with such tumultuous, strange feelings—fraught, too, with the future welfare of the whole world. May the stars be bright above America!  18
  I am, my dear Senator, most cordially yours.
JOHN GALSWORTHY.    
    LONDON, April 14th, 1917.
  19
 
 
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