Throughout the summer of 1915 the world was asking, What about the new British army? Why was it not attacking at the opportune moment when Germany was throwing her weight against Russia? A facile answer is easy; indeed, facile answers are always easy. Unhappily, they are rarely correct. None that was given in this instance was, to my mind. They sought to put a finger on one definite cause; again, on an individual or a set of individuals.
The reasons were manifold; as old as Waterloo, as fresh as the last speech in Parliament. They were inherent in the Anglo-Saxon race. Whoever raised a voice and said, This, or that, or you, are responsible! should first have looked into his own mind and into the history of his race and then into a mirror. Least of all should any American have been puzzled by the delay.
“Oh, we should have done better than that—we are Americans!” I hear my countrymen say. Perhaps we should. I hope so; I believe so. The British public thought that they were going to do better; military men were surprised that they did as well.
Along with laws and language we have inherited our military ideas from England. In many qualities we are different—a distinct type; but in nothing are we more like the British than in our attitude toward the soldier and toward war. The character of any army reflects the character of its people. An army is the fist; but the muscle, the strength, of the physical organism behind the blow in the long run belong to the people. What they have prepared for in peace they receive in war, which decides whether they have been living in the paradise of a fool or of a wise man.
As a boy I was brought up to believe, as an inheritance of the American Revolution, that one American could whip two Englishmen and five or six of any other nationality, which made the feathers of the eagle perched on the national escutcheon look glossy. It was a satisfying sort of faith. Americans had never tried five or six of any first-class fighting race; but that was not a thought which occurred to me. As we had won victories over the English and the English had whipped the French at Waterloo, the conclusion seemed obvious. English boys, I understand, also had been brought up to believe that one Englishman could whip five or six men of any other nationality, but, I take it for granted, only two Americans. This clothed the British lion with majesty, while the lower ratio of superiority over Americans returned the compliment in kind from the sons of the lion to the sons of the eagle.
After I began to read history for myself and to think as I read, I found that when British and Americans had met, the generals on either side were solicitous about having superior forces, and in case of odds of two to one they made a “strategic retreat.” When either side was beaten, the other always explained that he was overcome by superior numbers, though perhaps the adversary had not more than ten or fifteen per cent, advantage. Then I learned that the British had not whipped five or six times their number on the continent of Europe. The British Expeditionary Force made as fine an effort to do so at Mons as was ever attempted in history, but they did not succeed.