No man who has not come into touch with it can appreciate the depth and subtlety of Ger-man propaganda. I have seen so much of it in different parts of the world since 1914 that I am beginning to recognise the earmarks once in a while, before I can trace the actual source of operation.
When walking along a street in a town in Siberia, one might come into frequent contact with soldiers and sailors and hold short conversations on different topics. Neither soldiers nor sailors had much to do. Strolling along one morning in Vladivostok, a British officer whom I knew met a fine, clean-looking young Russian sailor. As the boy passed the officer, he paused a moment and addressed him in Rus-sian. Fortunately my friend could speak Rus-sian well. He smilingly returned the salutation of the young bluejacket. We always smile in Russia; it never fails to bring an answering smile. The Russian boy was clear-eyed, open-faced, and his smile was good to see.
“Would you mind if I asked you a question?” he asked my friend the Major.
“Certainly not, was the reply. “You are quite at liberty to ask anything that you like.”
“We are much interested in your uniform,” said the young Russian. “We have seen it several times now, and we have had one or two discussions as to just what uniform it is. If you do not mind my asking you, I should like to know if it is the uniform of a Turkish general or of an American lieutenant.”
“How in the world did you come to the conclusion that it might be one or the other?”
“I did not. One of the boys said he thought it looked like the uniform of a Turkish general. He has been in Constantinople, and he thought he knew. Another of my comrades said he was sure it was an American uniform and thought it might be that of a lieutenant.”
The Major laughed heartily. “My uniform is that of a regiment known as the Black Watch. It is a British uniform.”
“Really! How interesting. The boys will be pleased to know that.”
The sailor was about to pass on down the street, when my friend stopped him and asked,
“How could you think that my uniform was that of a Turkish officer when you know that your country is at war with Turkey? If I were the Turkish general I could not be here in Vladivostok.”
“Ah,” replied the sailor, “that would have been so a few days ago. But now that the revolution in Turkey has come and we are no longer at war with Turkey, there is no reason that you could not be here, even were you a Turkish general, is there?”
“But no Turkish revolution has taken place, my boy,” said the Major.
“Have you not heard the news?” came from the sailor. “Do you not know that the people in Turkey have overthrown their rulers as we did in Russia? Do you not know that Turkey, too, is governed by Committees of Soldiers’ and Workmen ‘s Deputies 7”
“I do not know that,” said the Major, with a smile. “In fact, I know that such is not the case, unfortunately. No; Russia is still at war with Turkey. There is no peace for the South of Russia yet, and no peace in immediate prospect, unless it would be one that would be worse than war.”
The sailor’s eyes brightened and he smiled back, delighted to find some one to whom he could impart newly gathered information. “Then my news is later than yours,” he said. “Come with me to the barracks and I will show you. I have proof that what I say is true.”
The Major walked down with him, and there in the barracks the boy produced a printed sheet in Russian, giving all the details of the Turkish revolutiontelling all the story in a clever, detailed way, ably compiled to catch the mind and the imagination of just such bright young Russian boys. No need to ask where that sheet originated. No need to ask the source of that news. That poison came straight from Germany.
Fortunate it was that the Major had that casual conversation on the pavement that morning, for he was able to hammer home some plain truths, not only about that highly imaginative account of the Turkish revolution, but about the methods of the men who had manufactured the information for Russian consumption.
The Austrian and German prisoners were sometimes visited by neutral officials. Before America’s entrance into the war a citizen of the United States had this duty to perform. When I was in Siberia I met a Swedish gentleman of rank, whose ostensible labours in the Russian Far East were to report, as an unbiassed observer, on the manner in which the Russians were treating the prisoners from the armies of the Central Powers.
On more than one occasion the Swedish gentleman indulged in close conversation with some Russian. Usually it was an employé of the government or a soldier in the army, but the Swedish gentleman was nothing if not catholic in the selection of his acquaintances.
“You poor fellows,” was the gist of one conversation which was overheard. ‘You splendid Russians. Is it not a pity that after you have fought so hard and so well for such a long time, and after you have suffered so terribly and had such awful casualties, that you should find your-selves where you are now? What a shame that after the sacrifices you have made in this war for the Allies, that they should have deserted you now, just as you have thrown off the yoke of your old government and are trying so hard and so splendidly to formulate your new Republic. My heart goes out to you. I feel that it is terribly unjust that the Allies should refuse to recognise your new govern-ment. How ungrateful of the Allies, after all that you have done for them in the way of blood-shed and loss, that they should turn from you now and fail to give you their sympathy or support. You poor fellows. Apparently the only friend you have left is Germany-at least, if Germany is not a friend, she seems inclined to treat you fairly and to make a peace which will prevent your going on with the paying of so heavy a price in the interests of those Allies of yours. It is they who gain and you who lose. You may indeed count yourselves fortunate that Germany is not so heartless.”
The Swedish gentleman was spreading that sort of stuff wherever he went.
“Made in Germany?” Unquestionably.
There were people around Siberia who were talking against the Allies, who were not paid by German gold nor subsidised by German influence. I met such a one in a conference I was holding with some of the newspaper editors in a city in Siberia. One of the most important publications in that locality was ‘what attempted to be the daily organ of the Soldiers’ and Workmen’s Deputies. It was intended to be a “daily” right enough, but it was very spasmodic. It was run by a committee. The editor was a soft-voiced, simple, quiet Russian, who, fortunately for me, knew that my views toward labour were decidedly liberal. In fact, he introduced me to the rest as a socialist, although he explained that I was about twenty-five years behind the times. I discovered that he had been a reporter on a labour paper in Brisbane, Australia, and had there reported an address of mine in which I put forward certain views with which the labourites were at that time in sympathy. That effort of mine in Australia aimed to show that there were some of us outside the Socialist group who held fairly broad-minded ideas about the progress of humanity, proved to have been bread cast upon the waters.
I visited the editorial rooms of this Soldiers’ and Workmen’s paper in Siberia with no little anticipation. The leading minds that had to do with the paper were present, as well as one or two other editors of similar papers. One of these was the editor of a paper called the Red Banner, which promulgated the views of the Maximalist extremists.
My friend from Australia interpreted for me, as he did many times afterwards, proving most helpful and offering his services cheerfully and willingly. He was a nice boy.
On this particular occasion there were several present who could speak some English. After some little time, when I had become fairly started on the subject of the war and we were getting pretty close together on the question of how more and better war news could be placed before them, a young fellow came in, sat down and rather unceremoniously joined the conversation. He was a pale, aesthetic looking young man, a Jew, with straight black hair and very black eyes under heavy eyebrows. I saw the stamp of the fanatic on him at once. I was really interested in hearing the views of the Russian newspaper men, and they were thoroughly interested in what I was telling them in return. For this reason I did not warmly welcome the intervention of the black-haired one. However, I smiled. Smiles were of no use to him. He was not of the smiling kind. His heart was bitter.
“Do you criticise the conditions that you find here?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied, “some of them.”
“Before you do that you had better go home to America and look into your own conditions,” he said venomously.
I smiled. “I have looked into the conditions in my own country lots of times,” I said. “Moreover, I have looked into the conditions of a good many countries besides my own.”
“After what America has done to Russia you should be ashamed to come here,” he said, his black eyes darting fire as he spoke.
I smiled again. It was a little forced that time.
“America has certainly done Russia no harm,” I replied.
“There has been a conspiracy between America and Japan to put down the price of the ruble,” he said, striking his fist on the arm of his chair.
That remark delivered him into my hands for the moment. I had no difficulty in winning that argument. It required no eloquence or gift of debate to prove that America had done more than any other nation in the world to raise the price of the ruble.
But this made the black-haired one more bitter. As I turned to the question which we had been discussing before his arrival and spoke of the necessity that the Russian labouring man should give us of his best in Siberia, the fanatic thrust himself forward again.
“The Russian workingman,” he said, “is further advanced than the American working-man. He knows what he wants and he is going to get it.”
I ventured the suggestion that the American workingman was very well off comparatively. This caused a storm. For some minutes I had to listen to a denunciation of Americo which failed to amuse me,and for once I stopped smiling. The fanatic held the floor with a tirade against American plutocracy, and what he said about the conditions under which American labour had to work sounded to me most exaggerated.
“In my youth I worked at manual labour,” I told him. “Later I have been a director of more than one company which employed thousands of workers in different parts of the world. You are drawing a picture of American labour conditions which is untrue and unfair.”
He declared that he was not. He declared that he had worked in America and knew what he was talking about. Spurred on by my contradiction, his abuse of America got beyond all bounds. I smelt the air of battle for a minute and, waiting until he was out of breath, took the opportunity to gain the floor and told him what I thought of him and his theories.
“You are the sort of Russian,” I said, “who is working more harm than good in this country. You may not intend to do so. You are of the type that is always denouncing somebody or something. Condemnation is your forte.”
I waited until my editor friend had translated my few sentences and then continued, “Your work in the world will always be destructive and never constructive. You love driving a wedge where you can and ripping things asunder. I’ll guarantee that when you came to Siberia you started at once to try to make trouble between whatever factions you could find sufficiently patient to listen to you. You are an obstructionist and a partitionist. If I was a Russian the first thing I would do would be to banish some of your kind. This is the day for every Russian to join hands.”
That started one of the hottest arguments which I heard in Russia or Siberia. Several people took a hand in it. I learned afterwards that the black-haired one was, luckily for my analysis of his character, a firebrand of the worst type who had caused some trouble in Siberia. He had been sent out by the Provisional Government in connection with some official work and was truly the sort of man who had a good word for no one. He was bitterness personified.
I do not know how far we succeeded, he or I, in transmitting our views to those who were listening to us. One or two of the journalists told me afterward that the fanatic had over-reached himself and that my attack on him, and his class and type had stung all the more, because it was true and deserved. I asked one of the journalists why this representative from Petrograd was so bitter against America.
“What did America ever do to him?” I asked.
“I will tell you,” was the reply. “That boy has been a revolutionary from childhood. He was born one. His father used to take him to underground meetings when he was a mere baby. The father and the child with him were under suspicion for some years and finally, when evidence against the father was procured and he was ordered deported to Siberia, not many years passed before the boy was sent to the mines as well. His revolutionary tendencies grew fast under restraint. He was always in trouble with the authorities. For six long years of his early manhood he wore ball and chain on wrist and ankle. Finally he escaped and obtained permission to accompany a compatriot who was going to America. He landed in the United States almost penniless, found his way to the Atlantic seaboard, and obtained employment in the Bethlehem mines.
“From what he has told me of the conditions under which he worked, they may be open to improvement. He could not stand the strain. Obtaining transportation by chance, he left the north and next landed in New Orleans.”
“What a place for a white labouring man, who spoke little English, to find a job,” I commented.
“So I should gather from what he has told me,” my friend continued. “He did not stay in New Orleans long but drifted out to Texas. He knew little of how to make a living, and succeeded at it but poorly. I suppose he tried to disseminate some of his extreme Socialist ideas and that they met with an unpleasant reception in Texas. He says frankly sometimes that he was more than once knocked about.”
I could see that thin-faced, black-haired young Russian, all nerves and fire, being roughly handled by some one who had considered physical violence the best reply to some of his arguments. I could see him snarl, too, when he was kicked.
“He disliked America, and when the Russian revolution came and he was given an opportunity to come back to Russia, he was glad to shake the dust of America from his feet. He has talked to me about your country more than once. He would not like to go there again. Is it natural that he should dislike America?”
I suppose so. I suppose he saw no right hand of fellowship reached toward him. Perhaps it was natural that he should dislike America.
There may be things in America that some of us would dislike if we would get into touch with them. I wonder.
I met that Russian afterwards, and talked further to him. I think he disliked me less on the occasion of our second encounter. No words of mine, however, could convince him that he was wrong about America; or that the conditions under which the American labouring man worked were better than he thought them. While I did not sympathise greatly with him from some standpoints, I could be sorry for him. After all, he was the victim of a system of environments over which he certainly had but little control.