Also Peter met the Pacifists; the “Peoples’ Council,” as they called themselves. Many of these were religious people, two or three clergymen, and Donald Gordon, the Quaker, and a varied assortment of women—sentimental young girls who shrunk from the thought of bloodshed, and mothers with tear-stained cheeks who did not want their darlings to be drafted. Peter saw right away that these mothers had no “conscientious objections.” Each mother was thinking about her own son and about nothing else. Peter was irritated at this, and took it for his special job to see that those mother’s darlings did their duty.
He attended a gathering of Pacifists in the home of a school-teacher. They made heart-breaking speeches, and finally little Ada Ruth, the poetess, got up and wanted to know, was it all to end in talk, or would they organize and prepare to take some action against the draft? Would they not at least go out on the street, get up a parade with banners of protest, and go to jail as Comrade Peter Gudge had so nobly done?
Comrade Peter was called on for “a few words.” Comrade Peter explained that he was no speaker; after all, actions spoke louder than words, and he had tried to show what he believed. The others were made ashamed by this, and decided for a bold stand at once. Ada Ruth became president and Donald Gordon secretary of the “Anti-conscription League”—a list of whose charter members was turned over to McGivney the same evening.
All this time the country had been going to war. The huge military machine was getting under way, the storm of public feeling was rising. Congress had voted a huge loan, a country-wide machine of propaganda was being organized, and the oratory of Four Minute Men was echoing from Maine to California. Peter read the American City “Times” every morning, and here were speeches of statesmen and sermons of clergymen, here were cartoons and editorials, all burning with the fervor’s of patriotism. Peter absorbed these, and his soul became transfigured. Hitherto Peter had been living for himself; but there comes a time in the life of every man who can use his brain at all when he realizes that he is not the one thing of importance in the universe, the one end to be served. Peter very often suffered from qualms of conscience, waves of doubt as to his own righteousness. Peter, like every other soul that ever lived, needed a religion, an ideal.
The Reds had a religion, as you might call it; but this religion had failed to attract Peter. In the first place it was low; its devotees were wholly lacking in the graces of life, in prestige, and that ease which comes with assurance of power. They were noisy in their fervors, and repelled Peter as much as the Holy Rollers. Also, they were always harping upon the sordid and painful facts of life; who but a pervert would listen to “sob stories,” when he might have all the things that are glorious and shining and splendid in the world?