Major George Haven Putnam

Major George Haven Putnam on ‘America in the War’

From the Whitefriars Journal, vol. V, no. 4, July 1918, pp. 115-21.

On 29 May 1918, many distinguished guests were present to do honour to Major (he is also ‘Dr.’) Putnam. The attendance of Friars was one of the largest on record. Our Prior, the Rt Hon. Sir Gilbert Parker, Bart, MP, was admirable and the guest of the day held his audience in one of the most poignant and thrilling speeches ever delivered at the Whitefriars Club.

The Prior submitted the toast of ‘The King, and the President of the United States’ and then, as Prior, gave a hearty welcome on behalf of the Club to Major Putnam. He went on to propose a toast which he said he knew would receive their warmest appreciation – The guest of the day, George Haven Putnam. George Haven Putnam was a liar. He was quoting from his own book ; he wrote it himself, but the person who said that about him was a President of the United States, President Arthur, who declared that – ‘He is one of those irresponsible reformers who have no regard for the reputations of other people – and he is a publisher.’ If George Haven Putnam had not been a man of great importance, a President of the United States would not have said anything of the sort about him; and it was because he was a man of importance in those days – the days of President Arthur – because he was a man of importance today, and because he was one of the best friends that this country had ever had, that this Club welcomed him with open arms.

Dr. Putnam was an Englishman, born in London, and if it had not been that on the day the Confederate general surrendered and that day was his birthday – George Haven Putnam’s birthday – he could have chosen whether he would be an Englishman or an American; but he was so busy in attending to the surrender of the Confederate general that he forgot the event. That was why, officially, he was an American; but he was an Englishman born, and might not they imagine that some of that enormous and splendid industry, fearless confidence and magnificent chivalry with which he, in our darkest days, fought for us in his own country, was due to the fact that he could not escape his birth in London?

There was no man in America who knew this country as George Haven Putnam did, no man who knew so well the Intellectuals of this country, the Academicians, the University, Literary and Public life of this country; and because of that, because he was a man of consequence and integrity and power, he asked the company to remember that when they drank his health they were drinking to a brother, to a man who had been the friend of this country and her Allies, and who, if he could have done so, would have had the United States in the War when the Lusitania was sunk.

Major Putnam, who was received with loud and prolonged applause, said they had more important things to talk about than his career. He had been coming to London from year to year since 1865 – when he got out of the Army at the close of the Civil War, and had seen with the greatest satisfaction the Confederate Army surrender – and coming with increasing interest and regard and increasing personal ties with Englishmen and English women. But never had he come to England before with the feeling that influenced him this Spring.

He thought he knew England, but he did not before now – an England that had been aroused with a national spirit for a righteous purpose, an England taken unawares at the time of the beginning of this damnable war of German aggression, unawares but unafraid; taking hold of the work of preparation, with some slowness and some mistakes – the Anglo-Saxons made plenty of them – but with persistence and confidence, and with the larger results that they had recognized in the past three and a half years in the creation of a vast English Army, the extension of the Navy, and the great work accomplished in every bit of the world where there was fighting to be done against the present enemy of the world’s civilization.

The Englishman had been doing that with such thoroughness – not always with success, that did not come at once – such assured purpose – that must in the end bring success. At the time this war of aggression was begun, with the fearful wrong of the invasion of Belgium and the tearing up by Germany of their obligations as scraps of paper, many of them in America felt that the United States ought to have taken prompt action, if only even by protest. At the time of the sinking of the Lusitania, the growth of feeling was such that the people would have been ready to organize a war policy for the purpose of bringing the United States into the war. He and those who thought with him were simply one of many factors, but they did their share of that public work. They held hundreds of public meetings throughout the country involving the outlay of considerable simis of money, and they distributed millions of copies of their policy to the public through the members of their organization.

In some States it was difficult to get working Correspondence Committees; he did not have any in Texas, for instance, for a long time. Then one morning, Herr Zimmermann in Berlin decided to annex Texas to Mexico, and then he (Mr. Putnam) had Texas with them almost the next minute. The propaganda done by the Germans in the United States had been quite useful in educating public opinion. A special meeting of their Executive Committee was held, and they elected as honorary members Zimmermann and Bethman-Holweg. He sent a formal note on the subject to Berlin, but never got an acknowledgment. If it had not been for these men, he doubted whether they would have got some States in, for they had helped them very much.

Washington was bothered very much with petitions to get rid of that lying scoundrel Bernstoff. Did ever an ambassador, a diplomatist, in past history – when diplomatists were known to be liars – use his opportunities in such a generally dastardly fashion as Bemstoff?

He (the speaker) was a student in Germany and had been going there since, and had read many German papers and books – much to his irritation. He was always convinced that the Germans were lying to them, and that a great deal of the trouble was owing to that. The first report of the Committee of Investigation showed that Germany had spent 29,500,000 dollars in propaganda work – some of it legitimate in the form of newspapers – but a great deal of Bernstoff’s money was spent in the manufacture of bombs for explosions in factories and works, and sabotage. The organization with which he was connected continued to petition Washington to break off relations with Germany, and finally the evidence became strong enough for the Administration to act.

The President of the United States had been carrying, since the beginning of the war, an enormous burden of responsibility. President Wilson had been hopeful that the war was coming to an early end, and that the United States –a great Neutral Power would be in a position to be of service to those who were now their Allies; and he was very confident that President Wilson’s personal sympathy was, from the beginning, with England and her Allies.

On reading the German papers, Americans realized that because they were shipping munitions to England and France, Germany held that they were at war with her. That was a convenient obsession – the Germans were given to obsessions and they chose to forget that in times of war it was customary to sell munitions. Germany had sold more, in times of peace for her, to warring nations than any other people. The only condition was that the sale of munitions should be on equal terms. Anybody could buy who could take away; and if Germany was not in a position to buy and take away, that was not the fault of America but was owing to the good service of the British fleet. The British fleet said ‘No’. They had made an enemy of Germany and they ought to have done it a great deal sooner.

Finally, the American people came round to their way of thinking. A substantial portion were ready to back up the President in seeing to it that America did its duty as a member of the Family of Nations, and they saw also that they were to fight not only for the Allies but for the liberty of the United States.

The speaker proceeded to allude to the preparations for war since 1871 on the part of Germany, at the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War, in the days of the Emperor William I. (We will call him ‘William the Decent’ to distinguish him) and quoted well-known blasphemous utterances of the present Kaiser before and during this war, showing his lust for conquest. Germany had been so frank since the crushing of France in 1871, that it was a continual puzzle to Americans that England remained blind to the situation. The English Channel, it was then said by one of Germany’s prominent men, should become the Deutsche Kanal, they needed the Skaggerack and Kattegat, the plains of Spain and Gibraltar, and control of the Mediterranean. France must not stand in the way of Germany, for so long as she was there the British Empire could not be broken up.

A German writer had said, ‘It is time we should deal with those damned Americans. We don’t want to conquer the United States, but when we have smashed one or two of the coast cities the Republic will crumble.’ But even if that were so, Chicago would be perfectly able to run the Republic without the assistance of Washington or Boston.

America had been maintained by the British Fleet alone, and Americans had at last come to some recognition not only of their needs but of their obligations. A lecturer at Leipzig said that the twentieth Century belonged to Germany and that Germans were the natural inheritors of the Roman Empire. The British Empire was a mere sham, etc. As he came out of the lecture room he suggested to a German friend that the lecturer’s theories of Empire-building were a little like Sheridan’s views on Matrimony in his Reminiscences. The great Sheridan said to his son – ‘Dick, you are getting to be a big boy; it is time you should take a wife.’ ‘Well,’ said Dick, ‘whose wife shall I take?’

There were ten millions of Germans in the States by birth and kin, and in lecturing before them he had tried to make clear to them that it was the theories of their rule and government that had brought on this war, and that, coming to such a democratic country, they ought to have no sympathy with such theories. A German writer had asked them to submit to German guidance, and said, ‘Germans go to the United States for the same reason that missionaries go to China, to bestow on them the inestimable blessings of civilization.’ That was a rough translation. He would not say it was a German lie; it was a Hun truth.

The extraordinary utterances of the Kaiser in past and recent times, would be laughable if they were not backed up by the fighting power of his tremendous machine. Everything depended on confidence between man and man, the understanding of each other, and that was the same in regard to nations. The world without truth and without law was a world of anarchy, and they went back again to the Cave Dwellers. But all the states and nations now fighting the Kaiser told him that law, truth, and justice were not to be abolished from the world on the fiat of a Hohenzollern; and that was what they were fighting for.

He (Mr. Putnam) had not many years to spare for this world, but, if success were to attend the Kaiser’s theories, the sooner he got into the other world the more comfortable would it be for him. Their present theories and actions were an obsession that had come over the good old German people who in 1848 fought for their liberties. Underlying it all, there was still a German ideal that was going to come, and it would be realized that there could not be a German domination of the world. When that was realized there was going to be a revolt, not against Germany but against the Hohenzolrns. The nations had to get rid of Hohenzollern control, and to treat with a Germany which could be trusted.

Now when America had come into the settlement, Americans were pushing forward rapidly and were coming over at the rate of fifty thousand a week. There was good material being licked into shape, and if they could only have a little more time, and the English boys and the French continued to hold the lines, all would be well.

After this War Alliance, the speaker looked forward to an Alliance of Peace of the English-speaking people of the world with the same ideals, the same theories of government, the same belief in the rights of man, the same sense of obligations, the same purpose of protecting the smaller peoples, the same utter antagonism to government by Divine Right and Prussian theories of militarism; they would then have for the service of the world ‘Government of the people, for the people, by the people.’

The Prior, in the course of his eulogistic remarks concerning the guest, mentioned that in the American Army, Dr Putnam had been a private, a sergeant, a quartermaster, an adjutant, acting-chaplain and acting-major. He had been ever since a leading publicist and had had great influence on American opinion. Those who were interested in literature and journalism realised that they owed more to Dr Putnam than to any other living man in the United States for their copyright law. The Friars welcomed him and needed him, for he had inspired them, and made them believe in themselves and in the cause for which they were fighting.