October 13, 1914

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

Headlines of the day the Capital Journal:

WILL NOT VIOLATE DUTCH NEUTRALITY
Kaiser Has Nothing to Gain by Making Antwerp a Naval Base

OLD MEN AND WOMEN GIRLS AND BABIES, A PITIFUL CARAVAN
One of the Pathetic Features a Necessary Sequence of the Cruel War
FAGGED AND SUFFERING BUT STILL PATRIOTIC
Army of Paris Poor on Their Way Back to Their Homes in the City

TRIAL OF ARCHDUKE’S ASSASSINS HAS BEGUN
Men Who Furnished Pretext for War Facing trial for Their Crime

WAR NEWS LARGELY FAVORS GERMANY; TURKEY MAY GET IN

GERMANS BEATING RUSSIANS IN POLAND
Have Swept for 100 Miles from Frontier with Little Resistance

A Statesman editorial, “The Mortgage of Civilization” offered readers a telling commentary on how money is spent, as opposed to how it could be spent. The editorial writer was a Keynesian before Keynes:

It matters little how much money a nation spends, but it matters a great deal what the money is spent for. If the belligerents were expending $36,000,000 [$853,000,000 in 2014 dollars] a day – which is about the average of expert estimates – in buying kitchen stoves, flour and freight cars; if they were building merchantmen and art museums instead of warships and forts; if they were draining swamps instead of digging endless systems of trenches, then few would regret the cost, because they would be getting the worth of their money.

These vast sums, representing the nations’ savings for generations, or mortgages on the savings of future generations, are exchanged for things that represent a dead loss. Warships, forts, cannon, powder, trenches are not wealth. They are waste. And then are far worse than that. For these things which in themselves have no real economic value are utilized to destroy the things that have value – houses and crops and bridges and churches and railroads and men’s living bodies.

Perhaps we should multiply that $36,000,000 many fold to get at the real loss it represents. And to all the waste and destruction we should add the wealth that the millions now fighting could create if they were engaged in productive occupations, financed by the money now thrown into the maw of war. And we should add all the economic loss throughout the world, wherever workers are marking time pending the rehabilitation of the industrial machinery.

Maybe the war is costing mankind $100,000,000 a day in actual waste and needless consumption of wealth. It wouldn’t take many years at that rate to bankrupt the world.

Of course the world isn’t going to go bankrupt. But the war is imposing a tremendous mortgage on civilization. We shall all have to sweat to make up that loss, though most of the sweating will be done by the working people of the warring nations, their children and their children’s children.

Appealing to readers to suspend judgement on who is at fault for starting the war, the editor of the Capital Journal writes:

It is useless to speculate as to the probable outcome of the European war. All the parties seem determined to make it a “fight to a finish,” and what that finish will be no one can say. It is also useless to discuss the merits of the matter or to try just now to lay the blame anywhere, for the simple reason that the evidence has not all been presented. It will be for the historian to decide when the passions have cooled and all sides have been heard. Until it is over, all Americans can do is to alleviate, so far as possible, the hardships and suffering due to the war, and this regardless of nationalities.

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About whclarc

We are devoted to providing information fresh from the Archives, Library and Collections of the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, Oregon. We specialize in the history of Marion County and the greater Salem area.
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