These are the questions that rise out of the dust and din of the colossal upheaval which is rending half of the world. Directly or indirectly they touch the whole American people, regardless of rank or wealth. The tide of war has rolled us far upon the shores of world affairs. We have prospered in the kinship of the nations. Will the ebb of peace leave us high and dry amid a mighty isolation?
I went to England and France to study this problem at first hand. I interviewed Cabinet Ministers; I talked with lawmakers, soldiers, captains of capital, masters of industry, and plain, everyday business men. Often the talk was disturbed by shriek of shell or bomb of midnight Zeppelin marauder.
Through all the travail of debt and death that rends the allied peoples runs the clear current of determination to retrieve the immense loss. War is waste; some one must pay—we among the rest. Already the guns are being trained for the inevitable commercial battle, which, willingly or unwillingly, will bring us under fire. Let us examine the plan of campaign.
But before going into the concrete details that mean so much to our future and our fortune, it is important to understand some very essential conditions.
First and foremost is the uncertainty of the war itself. All prophecy—at best a dangerous thing—is purest speculation. No one can tell how long the duel will last; how badly the loser will be beaten; what the terms of peace will be. Yet out of these contingencies will emerge the strong hands that will redraw the trade map of the world. Whatever the outcome, the countries now fighting, especially the Allies, have definitely stated the principles that must govern—for a long time, at least—the whole realignment of commercial relations. Their way shall be the universal way.
In the second place, be you Ally or Teuton and regardless of how you may feel about the ethics of the Great Struggle, it must be remembered that behind the glamour as to whether it is waged to conserve human liberty, maintain the integrity of “scraps of paper” or to safeguard democracy, the larger fact remains that it is a war rooted in commercial jealousies and fanned by commercial aggressions.
Now we come to the really vital point, and it is this: When the guns are hushed you will find that national and industrial defence among the warring countries will be one and the same thing. The Allies learned to their cost that the economic advance of Germany was merely part of her one-time resistless military machine. Her trade and her preparedness went conqueringly hand in hand. Henceforth that game will be played by all. England, for instance, will manufacture dyestuffs not only for her textile trades, but because coal-tar products are essential to the making of high explosives.
Thus, Competition, which was once merely part of the natural progress of a country, will hereafter be a large part of the struggle for national existence.