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A STRAIGHT DEAL (chapter13)

2006-08-28 14:08


    CHAPTER XIII: Benefits Forgot

    In our next war, our war with Spain in , England saved us from Germany. She did it from first to last; her position was unmistakable, and every determining act of hers was as our friend. The service that she rendered us in warning Germany to keep out of it, was even greater than her suggestion of our Monroe doctrine in ; for in  she put us on guard against meditated, but remote, assault from Europe, while in  she actively averted a serious and imminent peril. As the threat of her fleet had obstructed Napoleon in , and the Holy Alliance in , so in  it blocked the Kaiser. Late in that year, when it was all over, the disappointed and baffled Kaiser wrote to a friend of Joseph Chamberlain, "If I had had a larger fleet I would have taken Uncle Sam by the scruff of the neck." Have you ever read what our own fleet was like in those days? Or our Army? Lucky it was for us that we had to deal only with Spain. And even the Spanish fleet would have been a much graver opponent in Manila Bay, but for Lord Cromer. On its way from Spain through the Suez Canal a formidable part of Spain's navy stopped to coal at Port Said. There is a law about the coaling of belligerent warships in neutral ports. Lord Cromer could have construed that law just as well against us. His construction brought it about that those Spanish ships couldn't get to Manila Bay in time to take part against Admiral Dewey. The Spanish War revealed that our Navy could hit eight times out of a hundred, and was in other respects unprepared and utterly inadequate to cope with a first-class power. In consequence of this, and the criticisms of our Navy Department, which Admiral Sims as a young man had written, Roosevelt took the steps he did in his first term. Three ticklish times in that Spanish War England stood our friend against Germany. When it broke out, German agents approached Mr. Balfour, proposing that England join in a European combination in Spain's favor. Mr. Balfour's refusal is common knowledge, except to the monomaniac with his complex. Next came the action of Lord Cromer, and finally that moment in Manila Bay when England took her stand by our side and Germany saw she would have to fight us both, if she fought at all. If you saw any German or French papers at the time of our troubles with Spain, you saw undisguised hostility. If you have talked with any American who was in Paris during that April of , your impression will be more vivid still. There was an outburst of European hate for us. Germany, France, and Austria all looked expectantly to England——and England disappointed their expectations. The British Press was as much for us as the French and German press were hostile; the London Spectator said: "We are not, and we do not pretend to be, an agreeable people, but when there is trouble in the family, we know where our hearts are."

    In those same days (somewhere about the third week in April, ), at the British Embassy in Washington, occurred a scene of significance and interest, which has probably been told less often than that interview between Mr. Balfour and the Kaiser's emissary in London. The British Ambassador was standing at his window, looking out at the German Embassy, across the street. With him was a member of his diplomatic household. The two watched what was happening. One by one, the representatives of various European nations were entering the door of the German Embassy. "Do you see them?" said the Ambassador's companion; "they'll all be in there soon. There. That's the last of them." "I didn't notice the French Ambassador." "Yes, he's gone in, too." "I'm surprised at that. I'm sorry for that. I didn't think he would be one of them," said the British ambassador. "Now, I'll tell you what. They'll all be coming over here in a little while. I want you to wait and be present." Shortly this prediction was verified. Over from the German Embassy came the whole company on a visit to the British Ambassador, that he might add his signature to a document to which they had affixed theirs. He read it quietly. We may easily imagine its purport, since we know of the meditated European coalition against us at she time of our war with Spain. Then the British Ambassador remarked: "I have no orders from my Government to sign any such document as that. And if I did have, I should resign my post rather than sign it." A pause: The company fell silent. "Then what will your Excellency do?" inquired one visitor. "If you will all do me the honor of coming back to-morrow, I shall have another document ready which all of us can sign." That is what happened to the European coalition at this end.

    Some few years later, that British Ambassador came to die; and to the British Embassy repaired Theodore Roosevelt. "Would it be possible for us to arrange," he said, "a funeral more honored and marked than the United States has ever accorded to any one not a citizen? I should like it. And," he suddenly added, shaking his fist at the German Embassy over the way, "I'd like to grind all their noses in the dirt."

    Confronted with the awkward fact that Britain was almost unanimously with us, from Mr. Balfour down through the British press to the British people, those nations whose ambassadors had paid so unsuccessful a call at the British Embassy had to give it up. Their coalition never came off. Such a thing couldn't come off without England, and England said No.

    Next, Lord Cromer, at Port Said, stretched out the arm of international law, and laid it upon the Spanish fleet. Belligerents may legally take coal enough at neutral ports to reach their nearest "home port." That Spanish fleet was on its way from Spain to Manila through the Suez Canal. It could have reached there, had Lord Cromer allowed it coal enough to make the nearest home port ahead of it——Manila. But there was a home port behind it, still nearer, namely, Barcelona. He let it take coal enough to get back to Barcelona. Thus, England again stepped in.

    The third time was in Manila Bay itself, after Dewey's victory, and while he was in occupation of the place. Once more the Kaiser tried it, not discouraged by his failure with Mr. Balfour and the British Government. He desired the Philippines for himself; we had not yet acquired them; we were policing them, superintending the harbor, administering whatever had fallen to us from Spain's defeat. The Kaiser sent, under Admiral Diedrich, a squadron stronger than Dewey's.

    Dewey indicated where the German was to anchor. "I am here by the order of his Majesty the German Emperor," said Diedrich, and chose his own place to anchor. He made it quite plain in other ways that he was taking no orders from America. Dewey, so report has it, at last told him that "if he wanted a fight he could have it at the drop of the hat." Then it was that the German called on the English Admiral, Chichester, who was likewise at hand, anchored in Manila Bay. "What would you do," inquired Diedrich, "in the event of trouble between Admiral Dewey and myself?" "That is a secret known only to Admiral Dewey and me," said the Englishman. Plainer talk could hardly be. Diedrich, though a German, understood it. He returned to his flagship. What he saw next morning was the British cruiser in a new place, interposed between Dewey and himself. Once more, he understood; and he and his squadron sailed off; and it was soon after this incident that the disappointed Kaiser wrote that, if only his fleet had been larger, he would have taken us by the scruff of the neck.

    Tell these things to the next man you hear talking about George III or the Alabama. You may meet him in front of a bulletin board, or in a drawing-room. He is amongst us everywhere, in the street and in the house. He may be a paid propagandist or merely a silly ignorant puppet. But whatever he is, he will not find much to say in response, unless it be vain, sterile chatter. True come-back will fail him as it failed that man by the bulletin board who asked, "What is England doing, anyhow?" and his neighbor answered, "Her fleet's keeping the Kaiser out of your front yard."

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