Address of President Wilson, Opening the Campaign in New York for the Second Red Cross Fund, May 18, 1918
Mr. Chairman and Fellow Countrymen: I should be very sorry to think that Mr. Davison in any degree curtailed his exceedingly interesting speech for fear that he was postponing mine, because I am sure you listened with the same intent and intimate interest with which I listened to the extraordinarily vivid account he gave of the things which he had realized because he had come in contact with them on the other side of the water. We compassed them with our imagination. He compassed them in his personal experience.
I am not come here to-night to review for you the work of the Red Cross. I am not competent to do so, because I have not had the time or the opportunity to follow it in detail. I have come here simply to say a few words to you as to what it all seems to me to mean.[Page 234]
It means a great deal. There are two duties with which we are face to face. The first duty is to win the war. The second duty, that goes hand in hand with it, is to win it greatly and worthily, showing the real quality of our power not only, but the real quality of our purpose and of ourselves. Of course, the first duty, the duty that we must keep in the foreground of our thought until it is accomplished, is to win the war. I have heard gentlemen recently say that we must get five million men ready. Why limit it to five million? I have asked the Congress of the United States to name no limit, because the Congress intends, I am sure, as we all intend, that every ship that can carry men or supplies shall go laden upon every voyage with every man and every supply she can carry.
And we are not to be diverted from the grim purpose of winning the war by any insincere approaches upon the subject of peace. I can say with a clear conscience that I have tested those intimations and have found them insincere. I now recognize them for what they are, an opportunity to have a free hand, particularly in the east, to carry out purposes of conquest and exploitation. Every proposal with regard to accommodation in the west involves a reservation with regard to the east. Now, so far as I am concerned, I intend to stand by Russia as well as France. The helpless and the friendless are the very ones that need friends and succor, and if any man in Germany thinks we are going to sacrifice anybody for our own sake, I tell them now they are mistaken. For the glory of this war, my fellow-citizens, so far as we are concerned, is that it is, perhaps for the first time in history, an unselfish war. I could not be proud to fight for a selfish purpose, but I can be proud to fight for mankind. If they wish peace, let them come forward through accredited representatives and lay their terms on the table. We have laid ours, and they know what they are.
But behind all this grim purpose, my friends, lies the opportunity to demonstrate not only force, which will be demonstrated to the utmost, but the opportunity to demonstrate character, and it is that opportunity that we have most conspicuously in the work of the Red Cross. Not that our men in arms do not represent our character, for they do, and it is a character which those who see and realize appreciate and admire, but their duty is the duty of force. The duty of the Red Cross is the duty of mercy and succor and friendship.
Have you formed a picture in your imagination of what this war is doing for us and for the world? In my own mind I am convinced that not a hundred years of peace could have knitted this nation together as this single year of war has knitted it together; and better even than that, if possible, it is knitting the world together. [Page 235]Look at the picture! In the center of the scene, four nations engaged against the world, and at every point of vantage, showing that they are seeking selfish aggrandizement; and against them, twenty-three governments, representing the greater part of the population of the world, drawn together into a new sense of com-munity of interest, a new sense of community of purpose, a new sense of unity of life. The Secretary of War told me an interesting incident the other day. He said when he was in Italy a member of the Italian Government was explaining to him the many reasons why Italy felt near to the United States. He said, “If you want to try an interesting experiment, go up to any one of these troop trains and ask in English how many of them have been in America, and see what happens.” He tried the experiment. He went up to a troop train and he asked, “How many of you boys have been in America?” and he said it seemed to him as if half of them sprang up: “Me from San Francisco,” “Me from New York,”—all over. There was part of the heart of America in the Italian Army,—people that had been knitted to us by association, who knew us, who had lived amongst us, who had worked shoulder to shoulder with us, and now, friends of America, were fighting for their native Italy.
Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together. And this intimate contact of the great Red Cross with the peoples who are suffering the terrors and deprivations of this war is going to be one of the greatest instrumentalities of friendship that the world ever knew; and the center of the heart of it all, if we sustain it properly, will be this land that we so dearly love.
My friends, a great day of duty has come, and duty finds a man’s soul as no kind of work can ever find it. May I say this: The duty that faces us all now is to serve one another. No man can afford to make a fortune out of this war. There are men amongst us who have forgotten that, if they ever saw it. Some of you are old enough—I am old enough—to remember men who made fortunes out of the Civil War, and you know how they were regarded by their fellow citizens. That was a war to save one country. This is a war to save the world. And your relation to the Red Cross is one of the relations which will relieve you of the stigma. You cannot give anything to the Government of the United States. It will not accept it. There is a law of Congress against accepting even services without pay. The only thing that the Government will accept is a loan and duties performed, but it is a great deal better to give than to lend or to pay, and your great channel for giving is the American Red Cross. Down in your hearts you can not take very much satisfaction in the last analysis in lending money to the Government of the United States, because the interest which [Page 236]you draw will burn your pockets. It is a commercial transaction; and some men have even dared to cavil at the rate of interest, not knowing the incidental commentary that that constitutes upon their attitude.
But when you give, something of your heart, something of your soul, something of yourself goes with the gift, particularly when it is given in such form that it never can come back by way of direct benefit to yourself. You know there is the old cynical definition of gratitude, as “the lively expectation of favors to come.” Well, there is no expectation of favors to come in this kind of giving. These things are bestowed in order that the world may be a fitter place to live in, that men may be succored, that homes may be restored, that suffering may be relieved, that the face of the earth may have the blight of destruction removed from it, and that wherever force goes, there shall go mercy and helpfulness.
And when you give, give absolutely all that you can spare, and do not consider yourself liberal in the giving. If you give with self-adulation, you are not giving at all, you are giving to your own vanity, but if you give until it hurts, then your heart-blood goes into it.
Think what we have here! We call it the American Red Cross, but it is merely a branch of a great international organization which is not only recognized by the statutes of each of the civilized governments of the world, but is recognized by international agreement and treaty, as the recognized and accepted instrumentality of mercy and succor. And one of the deepest stains that rest upon the reputation of the German Army is that they have not respected the Red Cross. That goes to the root of the matter. They have not respected the instrumentality they themselves participated in setting up as the thing which no man was to touch because it was the expression of common humanity. By being members of the American Red Cross, we are members of a great fraternity and comradeship which extends all over the world. This cross which these ladies bore to-day is an emblem of Christianity itself.
It fills my imagination, ladies and gentlemen, to think of the women all over this country who are busy to-night, and are busy every night and every day, doing the work of the Red Cross, busy with a great eagerness to find out the most serviceable thing to do, busy with a forgetfulness of all the old frivolities of their social relationships, ready to curtail the duties of the household in order that they may contribute to this common work that all their hearts are engaged in and in doing which their hearts become acquainted with each other. When you think of this, you realize how the peoples of the United States are being drawn together into a great [Page 237]intimate family whose heart is being used for the service of the soldiers not only, but for the service of civilians where they suffer and are lost in a maze of distresses and distractions.
You have, then, this noble picture of Justice and Mercy as the two servants of Liberty. For only where men are free do they think the thoughts of comradeship, only where they are free do they think the thoughts of sympathy, only where they are free are they mutually helpful, only where they are free do they realize their dependence upon one another and their comradeship in a common interest and common necessity. If you ladies and gentlemen could read some of the touching despatches which come through official channels, for even through those channels there come voices of humanity that are infinitely pathetic; if you could catch some of those voices that speak the utter longing of oppressed and helpless peoples all over the world to hear something like the Battle Hymn of the Republic, to hear the feet of the great hosts of Liberty coming to set them free, to set their minds free, set their lives free, set their children free; you would know what comes into the heart of those who are trying to contribute all the brains and power they have to this great enterprise of liberty. I summon you to the comradeship. I summon you in this next week to say how much and how sincerely and how unanimously you sustain the heart of the world.