Frederic L. Paxson
President of the Association, 1938
Presidential address delivered before the American Historical Association at Chicago on December 29, 1938. American Historical Review 44:2 (January 1939): 237-51.
The Great Demobilization
Twenty years ago this week the American Historical Association broke the continuity of its annual reunions. It had met in Philadelphia in 1917 and had there adjourned in the expectation of reassembling in 1918 in Minneapolis. It had, however, left discretion with the Council to select a more convenient place or to postpone the meeting. The program for 1918 was fashioned in the usual manner. William Roscoe Thayer fortified himself for the occasion with a presidential address. But in the autumn of 1918 the United States was at war. The minds of our members were in no mood for detached historical retrospect and needed Cheyney's warning, given at Philadelphia, not to write in 1917 or 1918 what might be regretted in 1927 or 1928. The tentative program for Minneapolis, salvaged in the Annual Report, shows how thoroughly we were involved in mere historical engineering, explaining the issues of the war that we might the better win it. The Council shifted the place of meeting to Cleveland, as involving a shorter haul, and then called the meeting off.
The railroads of the nation, upon which our members would have had to travel to Cleveland, were heavy-laden with freight for France, with the nearly fifty pounds per man per day required to keep the army in the field. That unavoidable daily quota of fifty thousand tons for two million men kept the tracks crowded, whether there were bottoms waiting at the ports or not. The arrival of the "flu" had developed an additional good reason for avoiding nonessential gatherings. To give up our meeting was a small sacrifice to the doctrine of "work or fight".
So far as war congestion was concerned, it turned out that the Association might have been allowed to meet. So far as issue was concerned, the issue seemed settled, and the Association might have met in triumph. The National Board for Historical Service had lost its job and might as well disband. Germany was stopped. An unaccustomed unity pervaded the United States. The last ex-President was on the stump in support of the program of the President in office. The American Historical Association would have provided a proper congregation to listen to a celebration of the triumph of a body of doctrine whose phrasing had been in the American vernacular, and whose ideology was an offshoot of American historical experience. Self-determination, under a different name, had given birth to the United States and was now about to give birth to a better world. Within the United States this self-determination--Jefferson's "consent of the governed"--had contributed more to the development of the component parts than had been the case in any other empire. The right of peaceful nations to be allowed to refrain from wars not of their own choice had been cast into English sentences under our first President. The capacity of peaceful nations, driven into war, to change the outcome of the war had just been revealed to the world. The possibility of writing superlaw binding upon governmental entities had been turned into reality as the American states adjusted their lives within a Constitution admitted to be "the supreme law of the land".
But the program which had been prepared for 1918 would not have fitted the occasion had the Association met, and the program of rejoicing which would have seemed to fit the moment was never drafted. It is, however, possible to reconstruct something of the spirit which the latter would have expressed, for the air was full of oratory. The enemy, before our normal week of meeting, had yielded in the field, its government had yielded up its life, its emperor had become an exile. A glad world faced the holiday, with even the enemy peoples welcoming the peace. There was rejoicing at the thought of the new world order, outlined already in principle and needing only to be implemented to prevent more wars. And at Christmas-tide, when this Association might have shared in the rejoicing, the President of the United States, bearing the gospel of triumphant peace, was spreading his message over Western Europe. The world, without knowing it, was on one of those unhappy peaks whence, if I may mix a metaphor, mirages may be seen. It was dazzled by a mirage because it hoped; it had not yet reminded itself that, lacking wings, the only course away from any peak runs down.
There was no presidential address for us that year. But Woodrow Wilson, who was a little later to miss his chance to speak to us as president, was delivering its equivalent as he toured the capitals. "Inarticulate America", as Dodd has said--forgetting how articulate our people were--had bidden him God-speed upon his mission.Inarticulate Europe, "peasantry, shop-keepers, and day laborers looked forward to his arrival in Europe as man looked in medieval times to the second coming of Christ". Bernard Shaw, skeptic by advertisement, took from Hearst a commission to describe the President as a Messiah; and the Hearst papers printed the tribute.
In the very week of our abandoned meeting Woodrow Wilson slept in Buckingham Palace, spoke at the Guildhall and in Manchester, and sounded the language of a war well won. He felt the "pulse of sympathy" wherever he appeared; sensed a passion no longer for any balance of interests but in "common devotion to the right"; and told the lord mayor of London, as well as all the world in whatever tongue it knew, that no such "sudden and potent union of purpose has ever been witnessed ... the ground is clear and the foundations laid ... we have already accepted the same body of principles".
It will be one of the enduring tasks of the younger members of our fraternity to explain the paradox of that strange winter, now twenty years gone by, when the Allied world thought the war was won, and when the chief soldier of the Allies himself said it was won sufficiently and stopped the slaughter. Strange it was too, when the President of the United States, forgetful of his years spent in teaching the principles of congressional government, conceived that he was still the authentic spokesman of his country and when Theodore Roosevelt, near to his deathbed, bitterly blurted out the truth as he declaimed that in any other civilized country in the world Woodrow Wilson would be out of office.
If we had held our meeting, with a program so readjusted as to sound the note of victory which was In our hearts and had taken from the President of the United States our cue that as a consequence of the victory the world was on the threshold of a happier era, we should have proved to be as completely out of step with reality as Woodrow Wilson was when he sailed for Europe. Even the partisan critics of the President failed to see the fact; even those who shouted for an American free hand forever failed to see it. Neither league to enforce peace nor league of Allied nations to keep Germany suppressed was to prevail. Instead of Paradise, the world--and the United States, which is my concern at the moment--had already entered upon a clouded period to which no word implying an outcome can yet be properly applied.
We have confused our thinking for two generations by using the word "reconstruction" in connection with the years of readjustment following the Civil War. For reconstruction, if the word is to mean anything, carries a promise of some rebuilding of an old structure without razing it to the ground. The more we have imagined that the antebellum United States was rebuilt, the more we have deceived ourselves. We are as yet spared this particular form of self-deception in connection with the decades following 1918. No word has yet been coined to mislead the innocent. The aptest word as yet is colorless, making no promise: demobilization. Demobilization it was and is; a demobilization all the greater because the war effort had carried the world far off any normal course; demobilization so thoroughgoing as perhaps to deserve the adjective of great. My theme for the short time allowed me by our corporate habit is this Great Demobilization, as the historian of the United States will one day have to face it.
The words mobilization and demobilization entered the American vocabulary with the war. It is not that they were unknown before its day, but they were related to matters so far removed from American experience that few used or thought about them. Military terms they were, dealing principally with armed forces. But war experience had taught, by 1918, that mobilization in a world war meant more than it had in 1898 or in 1861. It involved things as well as men; it comprised not only men under arms but men and women at home, keeping them armed. Procurement had been listed beside mobilization to make its meaning clearer; priority had been added, bringing the implicit certainty that some must go without; conservation had acquired teeth as social habits were coerced to make a surplus; and the bitter term nonessential, as applied to industries and to jobs, had left a fraction of our people hanging out on limbs. Before the full implications of the word mobilization had been digested, demobilization was upon the United States, more completely without foreknowledge than mobilization had been nineteen months before. There are moments in the history of mobilization in which the government of the United States looked like a madhouse; but in demobilization there was lacking even the madhouse in which the crazy might be incarcerated. They were at large.
First things come first. Among the phases of demobilization to be lived through as the pyramid of effort sagged down to a normal horizon there was demobilization in the field of political control. This had significance for those who lived with it and for the historian, too, since no national effort going either way can be more effective than the political machinery whereby common purpose is translated into action. On the heels of political demobilization came that of the armed forces, with veterans breaking into the oratory of their commanders to inquire profanely, "When do we sail?" There was a demobilization of the civilian effort in which work had been found for every citizen who craved a public activity. A demobilization of the emergency war controls came next--controls improvised from month to month as Congress responded to Administration lead and to pressure from the folks back home. Demobilization hit agriculture when food, planted to win the war, clogged the markets until farm equities evaporated like the morning fog. It hit the labor market, too, when men discharged from service milled around the employment offices. Private spirit, frozen to war harshness, yielded to the thaw; government ceased to commandeer savings for the common fund, and citizens turned from war economy to refill their larders and re-adorn their lives. And finally, national spirit let down as the high tensions of the war relaxed.
But, first of all, demobilization in political control began even before the guns were silent. Among the noiseless agents of that political demobilization was Will H. Hays, chairman of the Republican National Committee, who undertook as early as February, 1918, the task of reassembling the dispersed fragments of what still believed itself to be the dominant American party. It was a complicated task to get ready for the happy day--happy for those at least who thought with him--when there should no longer be a Democratic majority in Congress or a Democrat in the White House. The quiet perambulations of Hays await their historian. He could not, indeed, conceal his movements or deny his talks with every named variety of Republican, but he could, and did, lower his voice. Among those whose domestic feud had given office to Democrats he found everywhere a common bond, not going far beyond the desire to get rid of Democrats but going that far. He uncovered no consensus upon program, unless a temporary program might be found in the inadequacy of the Administration effort to prepare for war. Senator Chamberlain had just declared in public that "the Military Establishment of America has fallen down"; and Chamberlain was the Democratic chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs. But what Democrats might say about Democrats was dangerous for Republicans to repeat. The leaders of the opposition had no desire to emerge from the period of Woodrow Wilson with their party damned for a generation by the easy charge of war disloyalty.
Before great headway in anticipation of the congressional election of 1918 could be attained, the defects of mobilization ceased to be negotiable in politics. American troops had taken to the field. Shipments reached a new high. The troops fought well. The American audience, watching performance as the divisions of the First Army went into operation, had little use for appraisals of the wisdom which had sent them there. Even Wilson was hypnotized by the spell of action, hypnotized into declaring on the very day on which the Germans swept across the Chemin des Dames, "politics is adjourned". By midsummer it seemed hardly possible to wage political combat for a Republican regeneration of Congress or to offer good reason for unseating any member who had upheld the war.
The turn of the tide abroad made it more practicable to turn the tide of politics at home. By Labor Day the hope for victory was looking up. Almost simultaneously with the earliest German suggestion of a peace, a claim of superpatriotism among the "outs" burst into the campaign. "Unconditional surrender" became instantly a rallying cry to inspire the opposition. War unity had not been attained without effort. War strain induced a willingness to have it over without having to live forever with the "new freedom" of Woodrow Wilson; and although no one had yet given currency to the word "normalcy", there was a craving for what normalcy implied.
When the votes were cast on November 5 it was known that Germany was through and that whatever tension had for patriotic reasons kept votes behind a war Administration might safely relax itself. Political demobilization began as the votes were cast. When they were counted, the Democratic control of the House of Representatives was seen to be completely lost. It was figured as well that there was a juggler's chance that even the Senate had passed into Republican control. This meant that Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts would be chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, to receive from a disavowed President whatever treaty made after victory might be offered as embodying "peace without victory".
It is easy to say that Woodrow Wilson was blind when he sailed to make his peace; it is just as easy, and quite as true, to say that no one could have foreseen how immediately the American war mind would be demobilized. When the George Washington took out of New York the President and all the eager coadjutors who proposed to write his treaty clauses, he was a "lame duck" leader without knowing it. The hand of his Administration was palsied thereafter; for in our American lame duck intervals, whether in short session after an adverse election or in any biennium in which the President has had to face a hostile Congress, the American executive has been President in little more than name. Yet if Woodrow Wilson had appreciated the result of November 5 and had tried to harmonize his subsequent actions with the fact, he would have had, perhaps, no more influence upon the course of events than he retained while denying the result and holding to the belief that the temper of the people would coerce Republican leaders into compliance with his course. In any event, demobilization in the realm of politics had begun.
Demobilization of the armed forces had begun even before the battle ceased. The spurt in shipping, which after the agreements of March, 1918, turned the American contribution into a genuine reinforcement by armed men, jumped the shipments by transport to some ten thousand men per day. As the American camps were drained out through Hoboken they were refilled from the reservoir of youth. The 18-45 enrollment, authorized in the late summer, gave promise that men should flow to the battlefield so long as there should be a battle front. In the offices of the provost marshal general and of the draft boards there began the work of sorting out the thirteen million new names. The work was never completed because events moved with a rapidity beyond expectation as the enemy sought peace. Before the end of October the President turned over to his foreign military associates the question of a truce which they and the enemy would know to be unconditional surrender in thin disguise. At the beginning of November the army stopped troop shipments without admitting publicly that they were stopped. It had become apparent that the fighting was over. Before the world rejoiced at either the "false" armistice or the real one, the Administration had begun the reversal of its transport machinery for the home-coming.
There was no plan for the demobilization of the armed forces; and none would have been accepted by the men, anxious to be released, or by their people, anxious to have them back. Some of the filing cases now in Washington contain wordy proposals, urged but not adopted, for an orderly return of troops, class by class, to be fitted into jobs as jobs were found or to be sent to work new farms, for the old idea of a workable frontier hung on long after the frontier itself was gone. No theory ruled the return. The men came back from France as ships were available for them at Brest. Inductions in the United States were stopped before the backwash started. There were trains of boys en route to camp whose very trains were reversed in transit. The camps were emptied almost by a gesture. The men in uniform put on the red chevron of discharge and went back to Main Street in some doubtwhether they were returning as heroes or as so many pests. They found women in their jobs, and boys, and nonunion workers in places for whose control the labor movement had long fought. Patriotic or not, those who filled the jobs were loath to vacate them.
The numerical measure of the human demobilization is difficult to establish. Nearly 4,500,000 changed from uniforms to civilian clothes, but these represented only a part of the human problem, for perhaps as many more men and women had been in nonfighting jobs made necessary by the fact of war. War contracts were canceled or adjusted to the fact of peace. Half-finished structures, planned to supply those next campaigns which were never to be fought, were left half-finished and their hands paid off. War factories shut down. Those who received their severance pay envelopes entered the labor market to compete with former soldiers.
There was a difference in the demobilization problems as they affected soldiers who were discharged and civilians who were dismissed. Most of the former were young men who had never had named jobs before the war or attained fixed positions in society. They had been approximately ready to settle into their initial ruts when the call for troops diverted them to military duty. They came home to begin again. They now took up a postponed search for positions in the structure of civilian life, with their younger brothers, too young to have been drafted, crowding in, just ready to begin.
The latter group--civilian war workers--included older men, drawn into war work because war work was necessary and because it paid well. Many of these had acquired a more or less established status before they shifted to temporary jobs. They were men, too, whose deferred classification respecting the draft was based partly on essential jobs and partly on their family status and their dependents. These older men were no candidates for first jobs. Among them was the fraction of labor best organized before the war and most sedulously nursed by government labor agencies while they worked. For them the future demanded that they conserve their rights against both the employer and the intruding common worker.
The American labor movement had never learned what to do with common labor; nor has it yet. But the men turned loose from the war plants faced the employer, afraid lest with the return to peace he lower wages and load burdens upon his workers. They faced also mere labor, fearing lest the unorganized should thrust themselves into the choicer jobs, upon which union men had already laid their hands. Those of us who look back for causes of the present conflict on the labor front and note the clash between the crafts and common labor must pause to examine this uneven incidence of the burden of human demobilization and to measure its importance for us in the postwar decades.
Demobilization untied the knots with which a network of voluntary civilian organizations had enmeshed the nation. It had been hard for the United States, in a minute, to reverse its trains of thought, abandon the economic policy of the Sherman Act whereby combination had been proscribed as illegal conspiracy, and improvise in place of this philosophy a doctrine of united effort brought to a sharp and single focus.
Even in advance of the declaration of war the Department of justice had put together the outlines of an organization of listeners, working in anonymity, to apprehend sedition. The Food Administration found it could function best in liaison with state administrations of the same name; and these in turn had built up county and city structures, with committees to patrol each block. Five thousand draft boards decentralized the war, made it an effort of localities, and tied the citizen into the common effort. The Council of National Defense encouraged the creation of state councils, and these the creation of a close-meshed net resting on the grass-roots. Creel spread a screen of oratorical skirmishers across the land, with his Four-Minute Men. Through the Federal Reserve Districts the Treasury organized the bond salesmen and their neighbors, with movie stars to ornament them, and sent them out as flying squads to float war loans. The Red Cross had its local units by the thousand, with members, officers, missions, and an interlock with the War Council of the American Red Cross. Channels of communication ran freely from the home to the battle front. Anyone who should collect today the badges and buttons with which zealous cooperators advertised to their fellows their integral relationship with the common front would need a large showcase.
It is still to be determined how far this harnessing of good will advanced victory; at the very least it occupied the mind, made dissent more uncomfortable than it would otherwise have been, and made war-loyalty self-enforcing. A vacuum was left when the nets were all at once withdrawn. It had been a temporary harness, which chafed in spots. With the "false" armistice it began to relax; before Christmas most of it was gone. There came a deflation of spirit as the necessary follow-up of prolonged activity, and with this slump came other things which the student of demobilization must study.
Perhaps two consequences connected with the abnormal effort and the ensuing slump need most to be measured. The first was the hangover of the idea that it was someone's business to establish the correct doctrine for American life, and that with the doctrine once established it was likewise someone's business to compel the uniformity of its acceptance. The pliability of human emotion had been revealed, for the crooks and the dictators to play upon when patriots were done. The second was the evidence of results attained by closely articulated organization. The historic political parties of the United States had been pikers in comparison, as they organized their voting strength. The more their issues, the less their clarity of purpose. I am willing to defend, when I must, the advantages for the United States of a two-party system, with the parties as alike as peas; but unquestionably the system is a first-class medium for the development of single purpose propaganda. Pressure politics, offspring of organization and single purpose, seems to find some of its ancestors among the lessons learned when propaganda was a tool of war. Yet whether sound doctrine and the effectiveness of organization were the chief results or not, there came an emotional slump as another of the by-products of demobilization. And before new issues made new work for idle minds to do, our world lost its unity.
The war controls set up by law were based on statute and could not be relaxed as promptly as reason and necessity required; yet their relaxation undid some of the unities of war without restoring the diversities of peace. Where the relaxation should begin was a matter for argument. Begin it must, however, and there was no reasoned pattern for it to pursue. Control of foreign trade must be relaxed, for all imports and exports had come under license. There was a railroad administration, which some hoped to be a forerunner of a happy day when government would own the roads, which others regarded as a bitter concession to war necessity, and which still others believed to be an unnecessary intrusion of government upon a field in which performance was keeping pace with requirement. In spite of the maxim that one cannot unscramble eggs, these eggs, having been scrambled, were to be put back into shells, their own or others. Another of the war controls, unrepealed, lasted long enough to enable a President fifteen years later to commandeer gold for the United States. Another, after the enemy had left the field, left the federal courts free to seek by injunction to send railroad men and miners back to work. Still another made possible the continuance after the armistice of loans to nations which had been associated with the United States in the war. Congress, as it could agree with itself and with the President, got rid of war restrictions and war powers, while the public mind freed itself of whatever vision of a planned economy the war effort had engendered.
When the time came, not long ago, for another concentrated national effort, the planned-controllers of 1918 hurried back to Washington to meet an enemy at home and trouble ahead. They built hurriedly upon what they thought they recalled and set the New Deal off. But in the interval elapsing since the disappearance of the military enemy, the simple pattern of war had been replaced by the intricate pattern of the more abundant life if not by the pattern of existence itself, whether abundant or not. The revulsion favoring normalcy in 1919 gathered way as the troops came back. Human demobilization of the personnel which, in Washington for a dollar a year or less, had served the war, began in November, 1918. Rumor has it that some of the servants, leaving their offices to join in celebration of the armistice, did not return even to sign their pending letters but crowded into the consolidated ticket offices of the Railroad Administration to reserve their transportation back to the rugged individualism of American life. The relaxation of the war controls, without the restoration of prewar habit,gave to this aspect of demobilization a serious bearing on our postwar life.
The picture of Cincinnatus, back-trekking to the plow, has ever been inspiring to the citizen soldier and to the lover of democracy. But the citizens of the United States, back-trekking from temporary war duty, reached home to find, in some cases, that the plow was gone, leaving in its place a complicated machine that did not need them, and in other cases that the market was gone, leaving no reward for diligence at the plow. For agriculture and industry the end of the war did not mean the return of peace. It meant, as demobilization became a fact, that unaccustomed stresses were playing over the two great fields whence most Americans had gained their livelihood and must continue to gain it.
More than one historian has indicated the degree to which the American farmer, living off his crop and decorating his life from the proceeds of the sale of his surplus, has been beneficiary of forces other than his own effort. It required only a threat of war, in September last, for men to rush to print a prophecy that war in Europe would restore good times to farmers here. It is hard to starve a farming people, and in hard times the American farmer has kept at least alive; but in hard times or good the proceeds from the sale of his surplus have too often depended upon disaster suffered by another. Foreign war, with the United States at peace, has often made a market. Foreign pestilence has meant fancy prices for the farmer's crop. Intermittently for more than a century the greatest of agricultural nations, with food production facility greater than its appetite, had offered its surplus raw products to the world. It had sold them profitably enough to keep the American farmer above the peasant level in his mind, and even in his life. It had permitted him a vision of a life superior in its dignity to any that might be wrenched from a mere subsistence farm. American policy, for most of that century, so far as it was a policy of planning at all, was planned to the scheme of Henry Clay. American industry was built up that its workers with hungry mouths might eat some of the surplus from the farm. On the eve of the World War neither farmer nor worker thought his share of wealth was adequate, but neither had a grievance sufficiently compelling to drive him into dominant class politics and hold him there.
Class politics and demobilization came into the United States hand in hand. The state of war created a profitable market between 1914 and 1917. America as a participant demanded still more food, so that every farmer who made a crop was as a soldier, and every farmer who enlarged his acreage as an ingenious soldier. Never as badly off as farmers elsewhere, the American farmer of the war period was better off than he had ever been. In rising prices for produce and a pegged price for wheat, followed by rising prices for land, followed by an extension of acreage and greater profits, war seemed to lift the farmer to a new social plateau, measurably above that of his historic claim. Then, with demobilization, earthquake shook him off. The immediate consequence of demobilization was cessation of the extraordinary demand, so that falling prices soon wiped the profit from the crop, wiped receipts from the public tax roll, wiped income from the mortgage holder, and wiped farm equities from the estate. Hungry Europe, more hungry than ever, was too poor to buy.
There was no plan in entry to the war and none for exit; but before the troops came home deflation had begun. Before the United States formally terminated its state of war there had appeared in Washington to guide and threaten Congress the militant supporters of the influence of organized farmers. The supporters of that influence, sitting in the Congress, had formed and admitted themselves to be an agricultural bloc. Cincinnatus came back, not to the unprofitable plow but to politics forever.
The worker came back to a labor market which hardly needed him. The millions of the mobilized, jostling for jobs, would have upset that market even had the curve of war prosperity been protracted unbroken into peace. But the curve of industry, never far away from that of agriculture, slumped with deflation on the farm. The stricken farmer, who defaulted on his debts and taxes, could not continue to be a customer. When he ceased buying, industry was forced to curtail its hiring. Before the railroads could be returned by the government to the owner companies there had to be faced a demand that they be returned to worker management. Employers were startled by the aggressive claim that workers should be paid not what industry thought it could afford but a living wage. The labor movement, nursed for the war effort, had caught a glimpse of a higher plateau for itself and struggled lest it skid. The headquarters of the embattled farmers were matched by headquarters of the labor movement, whence Gompers and his successors and his rivals mingled advice and admonition as they warned congressmen of the price of disobedience. Out of these aspects of demobilization there have sprung new philosophies of national life; but no philosophy can be much better than its historicity, and the historians have not yet done their necessary work.
There was yet another side to demobilization, which leads the historian into social habit in his effort to trace the reactions between private life and public co-operation. The war revealed American wealth. It was not known until a little later that never had Americans produced in a single year much more than the equivalent of one dollar's worth per person per day. Within that limit real, even if yet unmeasured, reserves were found, to be drained for loans and tapped for contributions to good causes and unavoidable taxes. The Capital Issues Committee made it clear that for the period of the war government need had the first call on wealth. The individual American, proud in his war economy, saved from his income and increased the dimensions of the social fund available for war. There was a wide span between the level on which Americans lived and the level on which, given a reason, they could bring themselves to live. The nation drew its maintenance from within that span during the war years, and the people lived on what was left.
Economy was endured, not liked; and with the returnto peace it, too, demobilized. One may easily measure the return of indulgence to American life as, after war, the citizen replenished his housing and its furnishing, enlarged his diet, and turned into both private investment and personal pleasure a larger than ever fraction of his income. It was war theory that soldier boys on leave should enjoy themselves. With the war once over, their sisters took their turn, and we find the elders wagging their heads in disapproval of a flapper age. We see the daughters paying more for fewer clothes. The first silk-stocking proletariat made its appearance. We see the elders disapproving youth but aping it, with dancing schools for stodgy middle age. We see those who had ever avoided the swinging doors seek them now that the Eighteenth Amendment had professed to lock them. We see new gadgets entering the market to entice the dollar: pink bath tubs, radio sets, electric refrigerators, and the innumerable homely progeny of Henry Ford. This too was demobilization in reaction from the self-control of war. By its completeness it turned a consequence into a new primary cause.
If the spirit of the individual, with barriers down, lost its self-restraint and ran riot, the spirit of the nation, from its exhausting sojourn on the plane of exaltation, came down to lower levels and lost its way. There was, indeed, a new "high" when in the autumn of 1918 the United States believed that some way, with American co-operation, a world of better organization might be built. The road to the next "low" was indicated when political exigency made it undesirable that Woodrow Wilson should be allowed to make his peace, when American atavism turned the nation's back upon Europe, and when the difficulty of writing a "peace without victory" made it seem that such a peace was beyond the power of man to write. In the break-up of the spirit of the war the war habit carried over to the extent of spreading the delusion that patterns of the mind had authentic value over and above their reasonableness and their usefulness. Men who, as patriots, had espoused the cause of patriotism, espoused now, with equal insistence if with less validity, the cause of this and that. Bryan crusaded against Darwin. The Ku Klux Klan crusaded against Jews, aliens, and Catholics. The patriotic societies allied themselves with labor to crusade against the immigrant. A mayor of this great city crusaded against King George V, who was not even an immigrant. Mr. Hearst crusaded against our colleagues, admonishing them to remember that "history teaching is the chief source of patriotic spirit and purpose" and prodding them into the preservation of ancient hates. Teachers crusaded, under parental pressure, to the end that teaching should make students safe for their parents. And Americans of alien origin, on the rebound from the unisons of war, broke into discordance in a new variety of hyphenism.
Outside the United States the dictators said, pointing to the United States, that democracy had ceased to work. Inside the United States there was some reflection of every wishful movement which promised to restore the world.
Demobilization had begun; and if we had held that meeting of 1918 in such fashion as to commemorate the peace, we, like the President of the United States, must have celebrated that which was not and must have left unnoticed much which has touched us as the years have come. No planning by man was ever done with more conscience or with higher hope than the American planning which was taken to Versailles. The inference from its failure may be no more than that man is a hopeful creature, driven by his wish. Or it may be that the future is beyond all planners. It is clear, at least, that these men (and we in part were they) who did this planning failed in their estimate of the stresses on the world.
"The ground is clear and the foundations laid", Wilson told his Guildhall audience; but the clearing and the laying were not what he conceived. It will take our colleagues another lifetime to reduce to measurement the calamity of demobilization which, more than the creation of a new world, was in 1918 the order of the day. Normalcy was restored as little as Arcadia was built. When the jerry-built structures of the war were razed there was hauled away with them something of the past, part of the old horizon which had been taken for granted in the American landscape. As the ground was cleared it became possible to see what war had hidden: new forces whose recognition had been almost too long deferred by war. There came into sight the trails that were to become new highways across a devastated American terrain, leading to new battlefields on which to test the validity of that democracy upon which Americans continued to rely.
Another great war, should it come upon us, might indeed be won; but the student of the Great Demobilization is justified in wondering whether American society, or any society, could win another "peace".
Frederic L. Paxson was professor of history at the University of California.