Grim war has been thrust across their very borders. One after another, neutral nations have had their trade, their industries, their commerce, interfered with, and in many cases even utterly demoralised. Great amounts of property have been destroyed, and numbers of lives have been lost to them through the grim, relentless tragedy of war which they have had no hand in the making.
We, as a nation, have been rudely shaken from our long dream of almost inevitable national security. We have been brought finally, and although as a nation we have no desire for conquest or empire, and no desire for military glory, and therefore no need of any great army or navy for offensive purposes, we have been brought finally to realise that we do, nevertheless, stand in need of a national strengthening of our arm of defence. A land of a hundred million people, where one could travel many times for a sixmonth and never see the sign of a soldier, is brought, though reluctantly, to face a new state of affairs; but one, nevertheless, that must be faced - calmly faced and wisely acted upon. And while it is true that as a nation we have always had the tradition of non-militarism, it is not true that we have had the tradition of military or of naval impotence or weakness.
Preparedness, therefore, has assumed a position of tremendous importance, in individual thought, in public discussion, and almost universally in the columns of the public press. One of the most vital questions among us today is, not so much as to how we shall prepare, but how shall we prepare adequately for defensive purposes, in case of any emergency arising, without being thrown too far along the road of militarism, and without an inordinate preparation that has been the scourge and the bane of many old-world countries for so many years, and that quite as much as anything has been provocative of that horrible conflict that has literally been devastating so many European countries.
It is clearly apparent that the best thought in America today calls for an adequate preparation for purposes of defence, and calls for a recognition of facts as they are. It also clearly sees the danger of certain types of mind and certain interests combining to carry the matter much farther than is at all called for. The question is - How shall we then strike that happy balance that is the secret of all successful living in the lives of either individuals or in the lives of nations?
All clear-seeing people realise that, as things are in the world today, there is a certain amount of preparedness that is necessary for influence and for insurance. As within the nation a police force is necessary for the enforcement of law, for the preservation of law and order, although it is not at all necessary that every second or third man be a policeman, so in the council of nations the individual nation must have a certain element of force that it can fall back upon if all other available agencies fail. In diplomacy the strong nations win out, the weaker lose out. Military and naval power, unless carried to a ridiculous excess does not, therefore, lie idle, even when not in actual use.
Our power and influence as a nation will certainly not be in proportion to our weakness. Although righteousness exalteth a nation, it is nevertheless true that righteousness alone will not protect a nation - while other nations are fully armed. National weakness does not make for peace.
Righteousness, combined with a spirit of forbearance, combined with a keen desire to give justice as well as to demand justice, if combined with the power to strike powerfully and sustainedly in defence of justice, and in defence of national integrity, is what protects a nation, and this it is that in the long run exalteth a nation - while things are as they are.
While conditions have therefore brought prominently to the forefront in America the matter of military training and military service - an adequate military preparation for purposes of defence, for full and adequate defence, the best thought of the nation is almost a unit in the belief that, for us as a nation, an immense standing army is unnecessary as well as inadvisable.
It is a grave question in the minds of most people, however, as to whether it should be introduced into our public schools. To do so is to change almost overnight, so to speak, one of our most cherished American ideals. It is the fundamental ideal of living on terms of peace and good will with all nations - and replacing it with the ideal, military training. Were the same time given to a more thorough teaching of civics, thereby inculcating a far greater acquaintanceship with, and working knowledge of American institutions, political methods, and political ideals, we would in the long run be stronger as a nation, even in times of any great crisis. Especially is this true of the tremendous foreign element, continually increasing, that we have in our public schools throughout almost the entire country.
Let the military training come later, at a more responsible age, and in a more systematic manner. Let it be given by those fully competent to give it. Let it be wholly under Federal control and let it be universal, beginning at the age of eighteen and continuing to the age of twenty-one. Let every youth in the land then be required to be in attendance in the training camp three months in the summer, each summer, during these three years.
Let them there be given systematic military training, combined with physical training, hikes for endurance, training in hygiene, and additional instruction in civics, inculcating thereby not only a fuller sense of responsibility for the welfare and the safety of their country in times of danger, but the still greater and more needed responsibility of a citizen in taking an intelligent and an efficient interest in matters of government in times of peace, and then the readiness to spring forth instantly for service in case of any call for her defence. Let the right of franchise - or the beginning of voting, the assumption of full citizenship - be dependent upon the ability to pass satisfactory tests along all these lines, which in hundreds of thousands of cases will make citizenship and suffrage mean something, where in the commonplace manner in which it is assumed today it means but little in all too many cases.
In this way also can real American citizens be made out of the children of the vast numbers of foreigners that come annually to our shores. In this way, also, under the guidance of trained and well-equipped instructors and leaders, can we amalgamate and build up a true, a safe, and a sane American spirit. To put military training in our schools, to put wooden guns into the hands of school children, is as consummately silly as it is foolhardy and unnecessary. Let a wisely wrought out and a standardised system of physical training be introduced and systematically followed, beginning at the age of eight and continuing right through public, and high, and private school.