WHY THE AMERICAN LEGION?
As I glance back over these pages I am impressed with the fact that only the preface of "The Story of the American Legion" has been written here. When the reaches of the years shall gather to themselves the last of the men of the army, navy, and marine corps of the United States during its war against Germany that story may then be faithfully told. So the truth of the matter now is that history is in the writing so far as the American Legion in its relation to the United States of America is concerned. That statement isn't in reality as platitudinous as it seems at first thought.
We have arrived at world importance in history. We have come to that as the result of our part in the world war. Our isolation is over. We are the cynosure of all eyes. Uncle Sam is the dominant world figure; his hands control the reins that are driving the world. He has the enemies which all the successful have. There are those who had, and haven't, and there are those who [Pg 181]never had, and want; all desiring, all envying the power of the United States of America. This great power and position was gained primarily by one motive—unselfishness. Just so long as it is our dominant trait will we retain what we have gained. Just so long as we remain true to our innate principles, to the tenets of our constitution, will we retain world importance and world influence.
There is a wolf at the gates of civilized Europe. If he gets inside nothing can stop him from ravishing us. This war has bound us so closely to Europe that we are, in a sense, one and the same. He who strikes our brother strikes us, even though he be so far away that the distance is measured by an ocean. We must get over the idea that distance makes a difference. The Atlantic ocean has just been crossed in sixteen hours. Remember, thought travels even faster.
The wolf that I mentioned is a Mad Thought. He is Bolshevism. He has the madness because of hunger, a hunger not only of body but of mind; the century-long hunger of the Russian peoples for Freedom. Russia has run in a circle. From the autocracy of the classes it has arrived at the autocracy of the masses.
Then, too, all our European brothers are war worn; tired, tired nearly to death with struggle and [Pg 182]sacrifice, and this is not a frame of mind calculated to help reseat reason in the world.
Why the American Legion?
One of our great bankers recently returned from an intimate study of affairs abroad. His name is Frank A. Vanderlip. In an address before the Economic Club in New York City he said that Europe is paralyzed and that our task is to save.
I give the introduction to his address as it appeared in the New York Times:
"Frank A. Vanderlip, who spoke last night at the Hotel Astor, at a dinner of the Economic Club, which was held for the purpose of hearing his story of conditions in Europe, whence he has recently returned, said that England was on the verge of a revolution, which was narrowly averted in February, when he was there, and the conditions on the Continent of Europe are appalling beyond anything dreamed of in this country.
"He said that the food conditions in Europe would be worse instead of better for a year ahead, because of the dislocation of labor and the destruction of farm animals, and that the industrial and economic outlook, generally, points to a period after the war, which will equal, if not exceed the war period in suffering and misery.
"He said that Italy was afraid to disband her army, because she could not employ the men and [Pg 183]was afraid of idleness. He said that the differential, which had kept England preëminent in international trade, was the underpayment of labor, and that this differential was now being wiped out, forcing England to face tremendously serious problems for the future. He quoted a British minister as saying that means would have to be found to send six or seven millions of Englishmen out of the British Isles and closer to the sources of food production, if continental conditions continued long as at present.
"He said that the best printing presses in the world to-day, except those in Washington, were at Petrograd, and that they were turning out masses of counterfeited pounds, francs, marks, lira, and pesetas, so skillfully made that detection was almost impossible. He said that these counterfeits were being spent largely by Germans to foment Bolshevist propaganda.
"Spain would, he said, be the most promising country in Europe except for the labor situation there, which had brought it to the verge of Bolshevism. He said that the most perfect laboratory of Bolshevism in Europe outside of Russia was in Barcelona, Spain, which he said was ruled absolutely by a mysterious secret council, which had censored and fined the newspapers until they quit publication and had enforced its will in all [Pg 184]matters by assassinations, which no one dared to punish.
"He said that America alone could save Europe and that its aid must be extended to all countries equally. He said that this was necessary, not only to save Europe, but to prevent an invasion of America by the forces threatening the social overthrow of Europe."
Why the American Legion?
There, at least, is one great reason.
Our men of the army, navy, and marine corps got a schooling in the practical Americanism which our military establishment naturally teaches. Those who were aliens by birth and those native sons with inadequate educational advantages learned a great deal by association with men of better types and by travel. These men can and will stem the insidious guile of the wolf, and, to aid them in so doing, the Legion has an active speakers' bureau under Captain Osborn teaching Americanism in every section of the country. These speakers, in helping to organize the Legion along the right lines, teach the Constitution of the United States and preach that remedial changes in this government can be brought about in only one way, and that is, constitutionally.
Why the American Legion?
America is safe from any real danger if she can [Pg 185]keep everybody busy. Less than two weeks after the caucus, the national executive committee had in process of formation a practicable scheme to aid in solving the reëmployment problem. As time goes on this department of Legion activity will become more and more efficient.
Here is another answer to the question.
All through these pages the reader has found references to this question of reëmployment; to anti-Bolshevism; the protection of the uniform; the non-partisan and non-political nature of the Legion; unselfishness; disability pay for the reserve forces; war risk insurance; allotments and back pay; the care of disabled service men; one hundred per cent. Americanism, and the deportation of those aliens who "bit the hand that fed them." The story has dealt almost entirely with these questions because primarily and fundamentally they are The American Legion. This program is the most important in the United States to-day. It means the betterment of the most stable forces in our community life, not only of to-day but for the next forty or fifty years. It means the proper extension of the influence of the most powerful factor for patriotism in our country—the onetime service man. It does not mean patriotism bounded on one side by a brass band and on the other by a dressy uniform and a reunion [Pg 186]banner. It means real patriotism in its broadest sense—a clean body politic; a clean national soul and a clean international conscience.
This is the final answer to the question which serves as the title for this concluding chapter.