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THE SCHOOLMASTER AT SEDAN
THE world war has become a fact in history
and the thousand isolated incidents that once
thrilled us may soon be forgotten. But a hundred years from now men will still be seeking to determine the true meaning of this gigantic cataclysm. Especially will this be so with regard to religious education, which, viewed in its largest meaning, includes all education. The war was the direct outcome of education; the allied armies won their great victory as the result of education; and it is to education that we must look for the building of a new world. In the last analysis, social progress is a battle of schoolmasters.
While helping to clear away the debris of fallen walls in the village of Boullionville, I came across a copy of Von Moltke's Military Tactics which had been left by a German officer in his precipitate flight from the St. Mihiel sector. It was a new edition published as late as April, 1918. The idea which seemed to prevail throughout the manual was that because Von Moltke's tactics had won at Sedan in 1870, they were therefore, worthy of careful study and application. But was it Von Moltke's tactics that caused such a humiliating defeat of the French at Sedan? Von Moltke did not say so. As he marched from Sedan to Paris where he was to enter in triumph, he is reported to have said: "It is the Prussian schoolmaster who must be given the credit for this.” The Germany which faced the world in 1914 was even more the result of an educational system. Back of the amazing military organization and the industrial support was a people entirely changed in character and motive, obsessed with an insane idea and loyal, to the last man, to a program that repudiated all moral standards and to a campaign of frightfulness so inhuman that the mind revolts at the thought of it. All of this was brought about in a single generation by a thorough-going system of education. The power of education is as amazing as its prostitution to unholy ends is shocking.
The Sedan-Metz railway was the objective toward which the American army was pushing when the Armistice was signed. On September 26, 1918, there was the initial obliterating barrage followed by a spectacular advance. After that, for a solid month, it was an unspectacular "ceaseless program of slamming in flesh and steel and gas for half a kilometer here, a farmhouse there, a village in another sector and a wooded hill yet elsewhere with little gain but to repeat the slow bloody process the next day.” Then came the final marshalling of a great army for the last drive. Every road leading into the Forest and the hill terrain between the Argonne and the Meuse was jammed with army trucks, artillery trains, and splendidly equipped
troops, mile on mile, going forward to the battle. Regular and rookie marched side by side like kings in a pageant, their souls shining in their eyes and with their faces set steadfastly toward a great ideal. During those last October days the very earth seemed to heave and tremble with suppressed expectancy and all the atmosphere was tense with a sense of unreleased power. At last the word came to go forward. For two days there was a period of horrible grinding; then the noblest men God ever made leaped forward mile after mile through “that chaotic period of agony and triumph, that period of mud, blood, fog, rain, desolation and glory.”
As one contemplates the nature of the victory achieved he is forced to ask: “What was the secret power behind the victory?” There are many answers to this question all of which have a large element of truth in them. But the one which stands out most clearly is that the schoolmasters of America must be given the credit for the final overthrow of Germany. In the schools and colleges our boys got the background of Democracy and the general meaning of self-determination; but it was in the church schools chiefly that they were taught that splendid idealism and world-wide reverence for human personality that carried them across the sea to fight for oppressed peoples whom they had never seen, and that clear faith in God which enabled them to endure such privation and punishment as few armies have ever experienced. It is considered good military tactics to withdraw a division when the total losses have reached twentyfive
per cent. because any further losses beyond that point tends to break down the morale of the troops. Almost every division which went into the line between the Meuse River and the Argonne Forest lost between fifty and seventy-two per cent. of its fighting units. Yet, notwithstanding this inconceivably terrible grilling, the morale of the men was as high on the tenth of November as it was on the twentysixth of September.
One lad wrote to his father, "I went into hell in the Argonne and found God.” A mere boy of seventeen wounded in July at Chateau-Thierry and again in the Argonne in November wrote these words: “A lot of us fellows never knew what this Sunday school stuff meant until we got over here. A man can't fight for months at a stretch who has not learned to trust God.” One Sunday school teacher has stated that forty-two members of his class were in the service. Another stated that his entire class of twenty-four had gone to France. A Sunday school in central Pennsylvania had three hundred and fifteen of its members in the war. These statements are fairly typical and we are forced to believe that the Church might wield a four-fold greater power for the reshaping of society if it was fully organized for religious education.
If further evidence for the potency of education in making and unmaking national life is asked for, one might well study the internal life of Japan and