It would be futile to publish one more war-book, unless the writer had been an eye-witness of unusual things. I am an American who saw atrocities which are recorded in the Bryce Report. This book grows out of months of day-by-day living in the war zone. I have been a member of the Hector Munro Ambulance Corps, which was permitted to work at the front because the Prime Minister of Belgium placed his son in military command of us. That young man, being brave and adventurous, led us along the first line of trenches, and into villages under shell fire, so that we saw the armies in action.
We started at Ghent in September, 1914, came to Furnes, worked in Dixmude, Pervyse, Nieuport and Ypres, during moments of pressure on those strategic points. In the summer of 1915, we were attached to the French Fusiliers Marins. My wife's experience covers a period of twelve months in Belgium. My own time at the front was five months.
Observers at long-distance that are neutral sometimes fail to see fundamentals in the present conflict, and talk of "negotiations" between right and wrong. It is easy for people who have not suffered to be tolerant toward wrongdoing. This war is a long war because of German methods of frightfulness. These practices have bred an enduring will to conquer in Frenchman and Briton and Belgian which will not pause till victory is thorough. Because the German military power has sinned against women and children, it will be fought with till it is overthrown. I wish to make clear this determination of the Allies. They hate the army of Aerschot and Lorraine as a mother hates the defiler of her child.
There are two wars on the Western Front. One is the war of aggression. It was led up to by years of treachery. It was consummated in frightfulness. It is warfare by machine. Of that war, as carried on by the "Conquerors," the first half of this book tells. On points that have been in dispute since the outbreak, I am able to say "I saw." When the Army of Invasion fell on the little people, I witnessed the signs of its passage as it wrote them by flame and bayonet on peasant homes and peasant bodies.
In the second half of the book, I have tried to tell of a people's uprising---the fight of the living spirit against the war-machine. A righteous defensive war, such as Belgium and France are waging, does not brutalize the nation. It reveals a beauty of sacrifice which makes common men into "golden lads."
Was this struggle forced on an unwilling Germany, or was she the aggressor?
I believe we have the answer of history in such evidences as I have seen of her patient ancient spy system that honeycombed Belgium.
Is she waging a "holy war," ringed around by jealous foes?
I believe we have the final answer in such atrocities as I witnessed. A hideous officially ordered method is proof of unrighteousness in the cause itself.
Are you indicting a nation?
No, only a military system that ordered the slow sapping of friendly neighboring powers.
Only the host of "tourists," clerks, waiters, gentlemanly officers, that betrayed the hospitality of people of good will.
Only an army that practised mutilation and murder on children, and mothers, and old people,---and that carried it through coldly, systematically, with admirable discipline.
I believe there are multitudes of common soldiers who are sorry that they have outraged the helpless.
An army of half a million men will return to the home-land with very bitter memories. Many a simple German of this generation will be unable to look into the face of his own child without remembering some tiny peasant face of pain---the child whom he bayoneted, or whom he saw his comrade bayonet, having failed to put his body between the little one and death.
On August 4, 1914, the issue of this war for the conscience of the world was Belgium. Now, in the spring of 1916, the issue remains Belgium. For eighteen months, our people were bidden by their representative at Washington to feel no resentment against a hideous wrong. They were taught to tame their human feelings by polished phrases of neutrality. Because they lacked the proper outlet of expression, they grew indifferent to a supreme injustice. They temporarily lost the capacity to react powerfully against wrongdoing.
But today they are at last becoming alive to the iniquity of the crushing of Belgium. Belgium is the battleground of the war on the western front. But Belgium is also the battleground of the struggle in our country between the forces of good and of evil. In the ranks of evil are ranged all the pacifist sentimentalists, the cowards who possess the gift of clothing their cowardice in soothing and attractive words, the materialists whose souls have been rotted by exclusive devotion to the things of the body, the sincere persons who are cursed with a deficient sense of reality, and all who lack foresight or who are uninformed. Against them stand the great mass of loyal Americans, who, when they see the right, and receive moral leadership, show that they have in their souls as much of the valor of righteousness as the men of 1860 and of 1776. The literary bureau at Washington has acted as a soporific on the mind and conscience of the American people. Fine words, designed to work confusion between right and wrong, have put them to sleep. But they now stir in their sleep.
The proceeds from the sale of this book are to be used for a charity in which every intelligent American feels a personal interest. The training of maimed soldiers in suitable trades is making possible the reconstruction of an entire nation. It is work carried on by citizens of the neutral nations. The cause itself is so admirable that it deserves wide support. It gives an outlet for the ethical feelings of our people, feelings that have been unnaturally dammed for nearly two years by the cold and timid policy of our Government.
The testimony of the book is the first-hand witness of an American citizen who was present when the Army of Invasion blotted out a little nation. This is an eye-witness report on the disputed points of this war. The author saw the wrongs perpetrated on helpless non-combatants by direct military orders. He shows that the frightfulness practiced on peasant women and children was the carrying out of a Government policy, planned in advance, ordered from above. It was not the product of irresponsible individual drunken soldiers. His testimony is clear on this point. He goes still further, and shows that individual soldiers resented their orders, and most unwillingly carried through the cruelty that was forced on them from Berlin. In his testimony he is kindlier to the German race, to the hosts of peasants, clerks and simple soldiers, than the defenders of Belgium's obliteration have been. They seek to excuse acts of infamy. But the author shows that the average German is sorry for those acts.
It is fair to remember in reading Mr. Gleason's testimony concerning these deeds of the German Army that he has never received a dollar of money for anything he has spoken or written on the subject. He gave without payment the articles on the Spy, the Atrocity, and the Steam Roller to the New York Tribune. The profits from the lectures he has delivered on the same subject have been used for well-known public charities. The book itself is a gift to a war fund.
Of Mr. Gleason's testimony on atrocities I have already written (see page 38).
What he saw was reported to the Bryce Committee by the young British subject who accompanied him, and these atrocities, which Mr. Gleason witnessed, appear in the Bryce Report under the heading of Alost. It is of value to know that an American witnessed atrocities recorded in the Bryce Report, as it disposes of the German rejoinders that the Report is ex-parte and of second-hand rumor.
His chapter on the Spy System answers the charge that it was Belgium who violated her own neutrality, and forced an unwilling Germany, threatened by a ring of foes, to defend herself.
The chapter on the Steam Roller shows that the same policy of injustice that was responsible for the original atrocities is today operating to flatten out what is left of a free nation.
The entire book is a protest against the craven attitude of our Government.
March 28, 1916.