Peace At Last
( Originally Published 1918 )
WAR came upon the world in August, 1914, with a suddenness and an impact that dazed the world. When it seemed, in 1918, that mankind had habituated himself to war and that the bloody struggle would continue until the actual exhaustion and extinction of the nations involved, peace suddenly appeared. The debacle of the Teutonic alliance was both dramatic and unexpected, except to those who knew how desperate were the conditions in the nations that were battling for autocracy. Bulgaria was first to crumble, then Turkey fell, and Austria-Hungary deserted Germany. The Kaiser and his military advisers, left alone, appealed to the Allies through President Wilson, for an armistice during which peace terms might be negotiated.
Prince Maximilian of Baden, a statesman whose liberal ideas were rumored rather than demonstrated, was chosen to open negotiations. President Wilson, acting in concert with the Allies, referred Prince Maximilian to Marshal Foch.
While negotiations were pending, a cabled message was received on November 7th to the effect that the armistice had been signed and that all soldiers would cease fighting on two o'clock of that afternoon. It was a false re-port, but it spread with incredible speed throughout the country. Celebrations which included virtually every American, made the country a gala place for twenty-four hours. The American people with characteristic good nature laughed at the hoax next day and settled down in patience to await the inevitable declaration of an armistice.
The true report arrived about three o'clock, Eastern time, in the morning of November 11th. Shrieks of whistles, the booming of cannon, and the clangor of bells, awoke millions of sleeping persons, many of whom trooped into the streets to mingle their rejoicings with those of their neighbors. For a day there was high carnival in town and country throughout the land, then the nation settled down to face the imminent problems of reconstruction.
One of these had to do with the immediate. reduction of government expenditures during the approaching year. President Wilson had appealed to the voters to elect a Democratic Congress as an evidence of approval for his administration. The reply was a Republican House of Representatives and a Republican Senate.
The Congress that had been in continuous session since America entered the war, ended its labors in mid-November.
For length, bulk of appropriations for the war and the number and importance of legislative measures passed, the session was unprecedented.
Appropriations passed aggregated $36,298,-000,000, making the total for this Congress more than $45,000,000,000, of which $19,412,-000,000 was appropriated at the first (an extra) session, at which war was declared on Germany.
Legislation passed included bills authorizing billions of Liberty bonds ; creation of the War Finance Corporation; government control of telegraphs, telephones and cables; executive re-organization of government agencies, and extensions of the espionage act and the army draft law by which men between eighteen and forty-five years of age were required to register.
Prohibition and woman suffrage furnished sharp controversies throughout the session. The war-time "dry" measure was completed, but after the woman suffrage constitutional amendment resolution had been adopted, January 10th, by the House, it was defeated in the Senate by two votes.
Every man, woman and child in the belligerent nations owed almost seven times as much money when peace came as he did at the beginning of the war.
Figures of the war's cost to the world compiled by the Federal Reserve Board were summarized in the statement that the approximate public debt per capita had increased from $60 before the war to almost $400 at the end of July, 1918. To this was added the cost since July, which is at the highest rate of the entire period.
The direct cost of the war was calculated by the board at somewhere between $170,000,000,-000 and $180,000,000,000, not taking into ac-count the authorization of the debt or the cost of indemnities.
Four-fifths of the huge burden fell upon the shoulders of the future, only Great Britain and America absorbing a considerable amount by taxation.
The total debt of the seven principal belligerents before the war did not exceed $25,000,000,000.
The board contrasted these figures with the total value of the gold and silver extracted from the earth since the beginning of the world, which, it said, hardly exceeded $30,000,000,000.
The belligerent nations, therefore, owed about six times the amount of all the gold and silver produced in all time.
Prices rose to three times the average of what they were at the beginning of the war.
Great Britain's debt increased almost ten times over in the period of the war, or from $3,580,000,000 to $32,450,000,000 down to June, 1918. These figures do not include the debts of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, British colonies.
France's debt was quadrupled by the beginning of 1918, increasing from $6,833,000,000 to $25,410,000,000.
Italy's debt rose from $2,929,000,000 to $6,918,000,000.
Figures for Russia were brought up only to September, 1917, but they showed that at that time she owed $26,287,000,000, as compared with $5,234,000,000 at the beginning of the war.
The public debt of the United States was calculated to January 1, 1918, in order to be in line with those of other countries, increasing by that date to over $8,000,000,000 from a pre-war figure of a billion and a quarter. Since that time $11,500,000,000 have been subscribed to the Liberty Loans, thus increasing the national debt about sixteen fold.
The most extraordinary increase of all was that of Germany, rising from $1,208,000,000 to $26,332,000,000.
Austria owed $2,736,000,000 at the beginning of the war, which was increased by June, 1917, to $11,573,000,000.
Hungary increased her debt from $1,392,-000,000 to $5,910,000,000 by December, 1917.
The neutrals, Denmark, Spain, Holland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland together owed $2,871,000,000 when war began and in-creased their debts only to $3,710,000,000.
Existing war obligations of the United States at the close of 1918 matured as follows:
First Liberty Loan, $2,000,000,000, redeem-able at the option of the Treasury after 1932 and payable not later than 1947; Second Liberty Loan, $3,808,000,000, redeemable after 1927, payable in 1942; Third Liberty Loan, $4,176,000,000, redeemable and payable without option in 1928; Fourth Liberty Loan, $6,989,047,000, redeemable after 1933, payable in 1938; War Savings, $879,300,000 up to November, 1918, payable in 1923.
With this program of maturity, the Treasury by exercising its option could call in the nation's war debt for redemption in installments every five years until 1947.
Secretary of the Treasury, William Gibbs McAdoo, who was also Director General of Transportation, created a sensation when he resigned both offices in November, 1918, the resignation to take effect January 1, 1919. Coming upon the eve of the peace conference in Paris and the announcement that President Wilson intended to head the American delegates to the conference, the resignation caused widespread surprise. The reasons given by Mr. McAdoo were ill-health and a serious depreciation of his private fortune during his incumbency of governmental positions.
Following the armistice, steps were immediately taken for the repatriation of a considerable portion of the American forces in France and the return to their homes of the men in American training camps. The Third Army of the United States, commanded by General Dickman, was ordered to the western shore of the Rhine, there to co-operate with the troops of the Allies until the conclusion of peace negotiations.
The country was amazed on November 23d when General March announced that the casualties of the American forces which had been anticipated as being less than 100,000, had in reality exceeded 236,000. Explanation for this lay in the fierce on-rush of the American forces during the last month of the war.
A forecast that many thousands of American boys would remain in France was given by Andre Tardieu, General Commissioner for Franco-American affairs, when addressing the Association of Foreign Correspondents in New York City, after the armistice had been signed.
This was one of the great by-products of the war. Thousands of young Americans, vigorous evangels of democratic thought, remained in Europe to bring American ideals and American force into the affairs of the old world.
Those who returned were formidable factors in re-shaping the affairs of the nation. Grave injustices were done in some instances to young men who had volunteered in the early days of the war through patriotic motives and who returned to find their places in industry taken by others. In the main, however, the process of absorption went forward steadily and without serious incident.
One factor making for satisfactory adjustment was the insurance system put into effect by the United States Government, affecting its war forces. Immediately following the armistice, the following announcement was made :
Preparations by the government for reinsuring the lives of soldiers and sailors on their return home have been hastened by the signing of the armistice. Although regulations have not yet been fully drafted, it is certain that each of the 4,250,000 men in the military or naval service now holding voluntary government insurance will be permitted within five years after peace is declared to convert it without further medical examination into ordinary life, twenty-pay life, endowment maturing at the age of sixty-two, or other prescribed forms of insurance.
This insurance will be arranged by the government, not by private companies, and the cost is expected to be at least one-fourth less than similar forms offered by private agencies. The low cost will result from the fact that the government will pay all overhead administration expenses, which, for private companies, amount to about seventeen per cent of premium receipts ; will save the usual solicitation fees and, in addition, bear the risk resulting, from the wounding or weakening of men while in the service. Private companies would not write insurance on many wounded men, or their rates would be unusually high.
The government will arrange to collect premiums monthly, if men wish to pay that way, or for longer periods in advance. This may be done through post-offices. The minimum amount of insurance to be issued probably will be $I,000, and the maximum $10,000, with any amount between those sums in multiple of $500. There will be provision for payments in case of disability as well as death, according to the tentative plan.
Thus will be created out of the government's emergency war insurance bureau the greatest life insurance institution in the world for peace times, with more policyholders and greater aggregate risks than a half dozen of the world's biggest private companies combined. Out of the experience gained may eventually develop expansion of government insurance to old age, industrial and other forms of insurance, in the opinion of officials who have studied the subject.
Regulations for re-insuring returning soldiers and sailors are being framed by an advisory board to the ,military and naval section of the war risk bureau, consisting of Arthur Hunter, actuary of the New York Life Insurance Company; W. A. Fraser, Omaha, of the Wood-men of the World, and F. Robertson Jones, of the Work-men's Compensation Publicity Bureau, New York.
Plans also are under consideration for allowing beneficiaries of men who have died or been killed in the service to choose between taking monthly payments over a period of twenty years or to commute these payments in a lump sum.