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The Crimson Bookshelf

ROAD to WAR by Walter Millis. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston. 466 pp. $3.00.


Mr. Millis' story of America from 1914 until our entry into the war in April, 1917, is a challenging and entertaining picture of democracy slowly succumbing to the war-fever. As such, "Road to War" should be read by every literate American citizen, for only through an understanding of past errors can we hope to avoid future catastrophe.

Starting with an admirable prelude which describes America at the time of the "Sarajevo incident", on down through the cutting of the German cables by the Allies in the early weeks of the war, through the first of the ever greater private loans to Britain and France, through the first inarticulate gaspings of the preparedness movement, the "Plattsburg idea"--Mr. Millis traces event after event which slowly and inexorably sucked the greatest democracy on earth into the earth's greatest malestrom. He spares no one; he has no respect for war-time idols, for figureheads thrown up by the War and still maintained in an anomalous position by a public torn between sentiment and disillusionment.

For this is bitter book. Mr. Millis is unable to attribute any higher motives to the Allied than to the German cause. Consequently he is unable to do otherwise than pour scorn on Ambassador Page in London; on Colonel House in his peregrinations amongst the struggling nations; on Leonard Wood who, he alleges, had sat at the feet of von Tripitz, and had devoted himeslf, long before the outbreak of the European War, to the upbuilding of an American militarism by the same modern and realistic methods wherewith the German had so brilliantly and disastrously succeeded, on Theodore Roosevelt--all Anglophiles, who never saw, or tried to see, more than one aspect of the War. We entered on the Allies side, because, Mr. Millis concludes, we never heard more than one side represented, from the first few weeks. Hearst's policy of friendship towards Germany, while it may have stiffened a note of protest to the British blockade, was impotent in the face of the Allied propaganda machine, incredibly more subtle than the German.

Mr. Millis hates war. So strong is his hatred, so convinced is he that war is an inexcusable crime against civilization, that he blinds himself to the fact that men can be sincere in fighting for an ideal, whether or no that ideal be created by propagandists in pursuance of economic interests. Moreover, underlying the bitter sting which is present on every page, there is a current of assumption that had the war been won by Germany, the world would be little different today. Frequently Mr. Millis refers contemptuously to the idea, widely held in the spring of 1917 that if Germany won the War,--bankrupt and depopulated and wasted though she must be--she would soon be attacking the United States, threatening the Monroe Doctrine, etc. But the point is not that she would have invaded America immediately. The point is that in a few years Germany, economic mistress of all Europe, and unquestioned military master, must inevitably have faced the United States, her rampant militarism vindicated to the detriment of pacific America. One wishes Mr. Millis had seen the implications of this argument; he might feel happier about the results of the war.

But as an historical writing, as well as a study in the workings of democracy in a waning world, "Road to War" is one of the most important books written for many years, and will surely remain as the standard work on the subject. No intelligent man or woman can afford to miss it; the time may well come when Mr. Millis' lesson can be turned to good advantage.

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