Today in History
A new kind of war
The Lusitania Massacre was not an act of war. The victims were not soldiers, only a portion of them were men. Essentially the thing was a new phenomenon to the American people. It was at first incomprehensible, unbelievable. Despite the solid and inescapable evidences of death, men's intelligence doubted what their senses told them.
So for days and weeks the American people stood doubtful and puzzled. They waited for that evidence they expected, they believed would come; that there had been an accident, a mistake, the blunder of a subordinate which would be repudiated by a government, the crime of a navy that would be disavowed by a people. But instead far borne across the seas they heard the songs of triumph of thousands of German men and women, who hailed the crime as a victory, the eternal disgrace as an everlasting honor.
Day by day, week by week, we Americans have since then been learning that we are not in the presence of a war between nations, a conflict between rival powers; that we are not the agonized witnesses of one more conflagration provoked by conflicting ambitions of hereditary enemies. We have been learning that what is going forward remorselessly, steadily, is a war between civilization and barbarism, between humanity and savagery; between the light of modern times and the darkness of the years that followed the collapse of Rome.
Time and again Americans have been murdered, time and again our government, our people, have had recourse to the ordinary machinery and the ordinary conceptions of civilized life. But each time we have beheld the utter collapse of every appeal based upon reason, justice, common humanity. The Germans who slew our women and our children flung us back the challenge that they and not we possessed the true civilization, and that their civilization, their Kultur, was expressed in their works, which were altogether good and right.
Slowly, steadily, we have been learning. We still have much to learn, but the primary truth is coming home to many day by day. This German phenomenon which fills the world is a new thing and an old thing; it is new in our generation, it is new in recent centuries; but it is as old as that other barbarism which, descending upon the Roman civilization, beat upon it and spread destruction until it was conquered and tamed amidst the ruins and desert it had created.