What does it all mean? Simply this: no man can touch the English thrift campaign without seeing in it another evidence of a great nation’s grim determination to win, whatever the sacrifice.
The British people at home have come to realise that by personal economy and denial they can serve their country and their cause just as effectively as those who fight amid the blare of battle abroad. They are animated by a New Patriotism that is both practical and self-effacing. It is giving the Englishman generally a higher sense of public devotion: it is making him a better and more productive human unit: it is equipping the nation to meet the drastic economic ordeal of to-morrow.
If this lesson of conservation is heeded after the war and becomes a feature of the permanent British life, then the Great Conflict will almost have been worth its dreadful cost in blood and treasure. He who saves now will not have saved in vain.
When John Jones of the U.S.A. puts his thousand dollars into an English, French, Russian or German bond he becomes part and parcel of the mightiest financial structure ever dedicated to a single purpose. He cannot tell how his funds will be used. They may buy a few hundred shells, clothe a thousand soldiers, feed a battalion or build a trench. All he knows is that his mite joins the continuous and colossal stream of expense that makes up the Red Wage of War.
Now if John Jones employs his money in the stock or bond of a railroad, corporation, or public utility enterprise he can find out almost precisely what it does, for it lays down a track, provides new equipment or builds a power house. The investment, in short, represents something that produces more wealth.
War, on the other hand, is a gigantic engine of destruction. Instead of building up, it tears down. It is a monster machine consecrated to waste. The only possible dividend can be peace.
The cost of the European conflict has a deeper interest for us than mere curiosity over staggering statistics. The reason is that we have joined the Paymaster’s Corps. In other words, we have backed up our sympathy with cash. We are silent partners in the costliest and deadliest of all businesses.
Up to the present stupendous struggle and with the exception of the Russo-Japanese War in which we floated several issues for the little yellow men, we have had no definite economic part in the wars that shook other nations. The losses in money and in men fell on the combatants.
This war, which has shattered so many precedents, has drawn the United States out of its one-time aloofness. To the dignity of World Trader we have added the twin distinction of World Banker. Already we have poured out practically two billions of dollars for securities and credits of the warring countries. To this must be added an even greater sum representing our enormous war exports. The price, therefore, of whatever freedom emerges from these years of bloodshed intimately touches thousands of American pocketbooks in one way or another.