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5: The World's Greatest War

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The history of the leading events in the nations of Europe during a hundred years of the past, so far as they related to the decline of autocratic power in the monarchs and the development of popular rights and liberty, has been given in the preceding chapters, where it is brought down to the close of the Balkan War and the opening of the great war that succeeded in 1914. As regards this war, its story cannot be told or even summarized in a chapter, but some indication of its general character may be given.


Wars serve as convenient mileposts in the history of mankind. They deal with the great struggles which break up the monotony of peace and bring the nations into volcanic relations. They have been many and their causes and effects various; strifes for spoil or dominion; savage invasions of civilized lands; overflow of vast areas by conquering tribes or nations. But among all the world has so far known there has been none so stupendous in character, so portentous in purpose, so vast in fighting multitudes, so terrible in bloodshed, as the one with which we are here concerned, the lurid meeting of the nations on the blood-stained fields of battle which broke upon the quiet of the world with startling suddenness in the summer of 1914. Launched on the borders of little Servia, it soon had the continent for its field of action, and all but one of the greater nations of Europe for its participants. It may therefore fitly be designated the Great War. Great it was, alike in the number and strength of the Powers involved, in the enormous array of armed men engaged, in the destructive power of the weapons employed, in the loss of life and waste of wealth that attended its earthquaking development.

In reading the history of the past we find it thickly strewn with stories of fierce battles, a day, two days, rarely much longer in extent, protracted intervals of marching and countermarching succeeding before the armies again locked horns. Such was the case in the American Civil War, in which the three days' battle at Gettysburg was the greatest in length, if the six days' fighting before Richmond be taken to constitute a succession of battles.

In the Russo-Japanese war much longer struggles took place. The armies at Liaoyung fought for eight days and those before Mukden for twenty days. But a more obstinate struggle still was that of September and October, 1914, when two armies, stretched out over a line two hundred miles or more in length, fought with ceaseless fury, by day and night alike, for more than a month. On the moving picture screen of time this vast conflict stands out without parallel in the world's annals, the most unyielding, incessant battling ever known.


In the giant warfare here described we behold a continent, well nigh a world, in arms. Along the rivers north of Paris three powerful nations, Germany, France and Britain, wrestled like mighty behemoths for supremacy. Far eastward, on the borders of Russia, Austria and Germany, two other great Powers, Russia and Austria, with German armies to aid the latter, strove with equal fury for victory.

Thus raged the Great War. How many took part it is difficult to estimate. Among the war tales of the past the most stupendous army on record is that of Xerxes, said by Herodotus to number 2,317,600 men, who marched from Asia to face defeat in the diminutive land of Greece. How large this fabulously great army really was we shall never know, but even at the figures given it was dwarfed by the hosts in arms in the Great European War, in which between four and five million men fought with fierceness unsurpassed.

The field of action of this mighty contest was not confined to Europe. On the far-off border of Asia another Power, the warlike empire of Japan, sent forth its soldiers to drive the Germans from China. In Africa and on the South Pacific the colonists of Britain set other forces in motion to invade the German colonial regions. From British India sailed a strong array of dark-skinned warriors to take part in the war in France. From Algeria and Senegal came hordes of sable recruits for the French army, and from the cities and provinces of the Dominion of Canada came still another army of ardent patriots eager to aid the forces of their fatherland. We may well speak of the contest as not one of a continent but of the entire world.


The story of the patriotic ardor of the Canadians is of interest, as given by a correspondent of the London GRAPHIC, who passed through the Dominion after the opening of the war.

"The news of the great war came like a bolt from the blue. The effect was startling. The ordinary flow of Canadian life was suddenly arrested. The customary routine seemed to stop dead still. The whole of Canadian thought and much of the people's energy were switched on to the great staggering fact that Europe was at war, and the old country fighting for its life. A most wonderful and touching patriotism welled up in the heart of the Canadians. The air became electric with excitement and enthusiasm. The prairie was indeed on fire. Passing through English towns on my journey to London the calm and peaceful demeanor of the people and the even flow of life seemed in strange contrast with the land I had just left, where the population was throbbing with loyal passion, and the war dominated the existence of the inhabitants, high and low, from Victoria to Halifax. One Canadian scene that remains impressed upon my mind was the sea of upturned faces in front of the offices of the Calgary News Telegram - every ear straining to the point where the war news was announced at intervals through a megaphone.

"'We stand shoulder to shoulder.' Sir Robert Borden, the Premier, had said, 'with Britain and the other British Dominions in this quarrel, and that duty we shall not fail to fulfil as the honor of Canada demands.' It is being fulfilled in a score of different ways, but mainly in the practical spirit that is characteristic of the country. The Dominion is the Empire's granary, and through the granary doors, as the Motherland knows, are passing huge gifts of food to the British population. At the same time the stoppage of the export of all foodstuffs to other countries is proposed.

"Soon the Dominion began to mobilize. Regiments seemed to spring up, as if by magic, from the ground - not hordes of untrained men, but stalwart horsemen, accustomed to the rifle and inured to a hard outdoor life. The Germans will knock against another 'bit of hard stuff' when they meet the Canadian contingents. One of the regiments carries the name of the Princess Patricia, who, by the way, holds quite a unique position in the hearts of the people. The popular Princess was, shortly after I left, to have presented her regiment with their colors - worked by her own hands.

"Londoners were happy in the knowledge that more such men could be sent, if necessary, up to 200,000 in number - such was the earnestness of the people. One met this practical earnestness in a dozen different directions - in such facts, for instance, as the conversion of the great Winnipeg Industrial Hall into a military training center - and not the least significant feature in the situation is the manner in which the prevalent enthusiasm had spread to the American inhabitants of the country. The trade intimacy between the United States and the Dominion was, indeed, constantly growing, and the many great American manufacturing concerns which had planted themselves in Canada had attained prosperity. It was pleasant and reassuring to think that this had not weakened the ties of attachment to the old country. In the days to succeed the war the Dominion can look back with pride upon the part she bore in sustaining the arms of Mother England, and can take her place with happy confidence and added strength as the eldest daughter in the great family of British peoples."

The enthusiasm thus indicated among the Canadians, which had its outcome in the despatch of 323,000 sons of the dominion in late September to the seat of war, to be quickly followed by a second contingent, was paralleled in India, which sent to France 70,000 of its dusky sons to join the struggling hosts. As for the remaining countries of the British empire, Australia, South Africa, East Africa, etc., a similar sentiment of loyalty prevailed, manifested there by the sending of contingents or in expeditions against the German colonies in the South Sea and in Africa. The whole empire was ready to support the mother country.

Certainly the Kaiser of Germany, William the War Lord, had set loose in the air a nest of hornets to sting his well-trained warriors. By his side stood only Austria, a composite empire which soon found all its strength too little to hold back the mighty Russian tide that swept across its borders. Thus this one stalwart nation, with its weak auxiliary, was forced to face now east, now west, against a continent in arms. It is difficult to imagine that the Kaiser could have hoped to succeed, despite the training of his people and the strength of his artillery. "God fights with the heaviest battalions," said one who knew, and the weight of battalions, though at first on William's side, could not remain so.


While the British people, with their lack of a system of militarism, were not in condition to send large bodies of troops at once to the aid of the mobilized French, they were soon ready to despatch a useful contingent of trained men. Probably the German emperor counted upon the disturbance in Ireland between the Ulsterites and the people of the Catholic provinces to tie the hands of the government, but these people at once suspended their hostile sentiments in favor of the larger needs of their country. In England itself the militant suffragettes showed equal patriotism, at once agreeing to desist from all acts of violence and offering to aid their country to the extent of their powers.


The British government appointed Lord Kitchener, the hero of many successful expeditions, Secretary of State for War, putting the whole management of military affairs into his competent hands. His fitness for this was thoroughly attested by his long and brilliant service, and as the presence of Napoleon was said to be equal to an army, so was that of this able military leader.

For those who are not familiar with Kitchener's career a brief statement concerning it may be useful. Born in 1850, Horatio Herbert Kitchener entered the army in 1871, was in civil life 1874-82, then returned to army duty. He took part in the Nile expedition of 1884 for the rescue of General Gordon and commanded a brigade in the Suakim campaign of 1888. Governor of Suakim 1886-88, adjutant-general of the Egyptian army 1888-92, he was appointed to the command of this army, with the Egyptian rank of Sirdar, in 1890.

His service in Egypt was during the period of the Mahdi outbreak, which began in 1883, defeated all the armies sent to quell it, and for years held the Sudan region of Egypt. In 1896 Kitchener set out for its suppression, recovering Dongola, and organizing an expedition against the Khalifa, the successor of the Mahdi. He defeated the Dervish army of the Khalifa in April, 1898, and on September 2d of that year utterly crushed the Dervish hosts at Omdurman, regaining the Sudan for Egypt and Britain.

This exploit brought him the thanks of parliament and the title of baron, with a grant of 30,000 pounds and a sword of honor. In 1899 he went with Lord Roberts to South Africa as chief of staff, and on Lord Roberts' return in 1900 he succeeded him as commander-in-chief and brought the Boer War to a successful conclusion. He was now made full general, with the rank of viscount, and subsequently served as commander-in-chief in India.


In an illuminating article in COLLIER'S WEEKLY, the well-known Irish journalist, T. P. O'Connor, thus brought out the character of the hero of Khartoum:

"I attribute something of the Lord Kitchener we know to the fact that, though English by blood, he spent the first years of his life in wandering over the hills and looking down on the sea-tossed shores of County Kerry. That tact which enabled him to settle the issue with Marchand, the French explorer, at Fashoda, suggests some of the lessons in the soft answer which Ireland can teach. You remember how, when it was possible that a collision between him and Marchand might mean a war between England and France, Lord Kitchener sent some fresh vegetables and champagne to the daring French explorer, who had gone through the hunger, thirst, and hardship of the desert for months. Marchand had to go from Fashoda all the same, but he went with no personal grievance.

"If I look for the roots of Lord Kitchener's greatness, I trace them to intense ambition to succeed, to make the most of his opportunities - above all, to the incessant desire to work and fill every hour of his days with something done. He is sent as a youngster to Palestine, through peril to life, through great privation, through heart-breaking drudgery, he pursues his work until he has completed a map of all western Palestine to the amazement and delight of his employers. And he values this experience so largely because he learns Arabic, and, above all, he learns the Arabic character. One of the chroniclers of his career makes the apt observation that, while the baton of the marshal is in every French soldier's knapsack, Kitchener found his coronet in the Arab grammar. But how many soldiers or men of any class would have devoted the leisure hours of a fiercely active task like Kitchener's in Palestine to the study of one of the most difficult of languages?

"Hard work, patience, and the utilization of every second of time, the eagerness always to learn - these are the chief secrets of Lord Kitchener's enormous success in life. But the man who works himself is ineffective in great things unless he has the gift to choose the men who can work for him and with him. This choice of subordinates is one or Lord Kitchener's greatest powers. He nearly always has had the right man in the right place. And his men return his confidence because he gives them absolute confidence. He never thinks of asking a subordinate whether he has done the job he has given him; he takes that for granted, knowing his man; and he never worries his subordinates.

"This is one of the reasons why, though he works so terrifically, he never is tired, never worried. He sits down at his desk at the War Office for about ten hours a day; but he sits there calmly, isn't ringing at bells and shouting down pipes; he does it all so quietly that it seems mere pastime; and the effect of this perfect tranquillity produces an extraordinary result on those who work with him. They also do their work easily, tranquilly, and without feeling it.

"A great soldier certainly; but perhaps a greater organizer than anything else. This is his supreme quality, and for that quality there is necessary, above all things, a clear, penetrating brain. He doesn't form any visions - as Napoleon used to complain of some of his marshals. At school he was celebrated for his knowledge of mathematics, and especially for his phenomenal rapidity in dealing with figures, and it was not accident that so truly a scientific mind found its natural place in the engineers. A mathematician, an engineer, a man of science, a great accountant - these things he has been in all his enterprises. It was these qualities that enabled him to make that astounding railway which brought Cairo almost into touch with the Khalifa, who, with his predecessor, the Mahdi, and with his tragically potent ally, the hungry and all-devouring desert, had beaten back so many other attempts to reach and to beat him.

"This man, who has fought such tremendous and historic battles and confronted great odds, is yet a man who prefers a deal to a struggle; and, though he can be so stern, has yet a diplomatic tact that gets him and his country out of difficult hours. The nature, doubtless, is complex, and stern determination and tenacity are part of it; but there is also the other side, which is much forgotten - especially by that class of writers who have to describe human character as rigidly symmetrical and unnaturally harmonious.

"That cold and penetrating eye of his makes it impossible to imagine anybody taking any liberties with Lord Kitchener; yet one of his greatest qualities, at once useful and charming, is his accessibility. Anybody who has anything to say to him can approach him; anybody who has anything to teach him will find a ready and grateful learner. This is one of the secrets of his extraordinary success and universal popularity in Egypt. Lord Cromer was a great Egyptian ruler, and his services are imperishable and gigantic; but Lord Cromer was the stern, solitary, and inaccessible bureaucrat who worked innumerable hours every day at his desk, never learned the Arabic language, and possibly never quite grasped the Arab nature. Lord Kitchener is the cadi under the tree. The mayor or the citizens of the little Arab village can come to him, and the old soldier, and even the fellah, alone; and they will find Lord Kitchener ready to listen and to talk to them in their own tongue, to enter with gusto into the pettiest details of their daily and squalid lives, and ready also to apply the remedy to such grievances as commend themselves to his judgment.

"As an illustration of his accessibility, let me repeat a delicious story which delighted all Egypt. An old peasant came out of the depths of the land all the way to Cairo to see the great Kitchener, with the complaint that his white mule had been stolen. The whole official machinery was interrupted for a while, and the old fellah went back with his white mule. You can fancy how that story was repeated in every fellah cabin in the land, and how the devotion to Kitchener and trust in his justice and in his sympathy went trumpet-tongued among this race, downtrodden and neglected almost from the beginning of time."

Such is the man who, when chosen to head the British War Department, had his bed sent to the office, that he might be on duty day and night if needed; who insisted that no raw recruits should be sent to the front, but put them through a rigid system of drill and physical exercise to toughen their muscles and fit them for the work of a soldier; who said that there would be abundant time for fighting, as in his judgment there was a year or more of war in prospect.

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